Last year a New York Times study bore a sobering headline: 1.5 million missing black men. Mainstream media carried this story for two weeks. The data were staggering. Commentators had a field day explaining away the problems of urban communities because of all the “missing” black men.
As a black man, it was heartbreaking to hear, not because it was true but because the study fed a narrative that leaves out the millions of black men who are present and accounted for.
I, too, once lifted up this narrative of black men being missing. For many years I would say, “Growing up, I didn’t have any positive black male role models.”
But something was wrong with that statement. I totally ignored my mom’s boyfriend who worked hard to provide; my barber who gave me advice; my youth pastor who was a loving family man, my teacher who made science cool; my uncle who owned several businesses; my grandfather who always had words of wisdom.
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Yes, there may be 1.5 million missing black men, but there are 2.5 million black men across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,, who actively present in their children’s lives. There are far more black males in colleges than in prisons. Black men serve this country in uniform at a higher rate than all other men, according to the U.S. Army. The rate of business creation by black men has been growing, according to the U.S. Census. Black men who live with their children are the most likely to interact with them daily. Also, black men who do not live with their children are the most likely to still maintain contact even after remarrying, according to the National Institutes of Health.
With all those overwhelming facts, why isn’t this the story you recall when you think about African-American men?
Negative perceptions about black men can be hard to shake, especially when the negative narrative constantly is being told. It is up to us to decide which stories we tell; which America we will build.
BMe Community is all about recognizing black men’s everyday contributions to the well-being of society; and building America’s future based upon positive values that we all share. The organization, which in 2011 began its work in Philadelphia and Detroit, then expanded to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Akron, has now reached Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
I decided to work with BMe Community because we believe America wants a more authentic narrative on race, communities and our future. To date, we have given the BMe Leader Award to 142 black men who lead efforts in educating children, creating economic opportunity, fighting for human rights and so much more, serving more than 400,000 people a year.
And thanks to our many partners, including the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, we are “breaking ground” in South Florida.
BMe Leaders come from all walks of life and are often unheralded. Yet they lead by example. They include leaders like Dr. Eddie Connor who at the age of 15 overcame Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and now leads from Boys 2 Books, a program that teaches more than 2,000 boys to read. And Shaka Senghor, who just shared his amazing story on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday about how he turned his life around after spending 19 years in prison for second-degree murder.
There’s Sulaiman Rahman, who founded the Urban Philly Professional Network, an organization that engages more than 12,000 leaders through community and civic involvement, career advancement and business growth. And police Lt. Brian Sprowal, who provides leadership grants for at-risk young men in the Philadelphia area who wish to pursue a degree in criminal justice.
BMe is now looking for those black male leaders in South Florida. BMe asks that residents nominate African-American men and share why they appreciate them. Black men, themselves, can also go to bmecommunity.org/inspire for applications. The deadline to apply is March 31.
Nominees for the 2016 BMe Leader Award will get a shot at $10,000 and become members of an innovative national brotherhood for good that strives to build better cities across America.
Benjamin C. Evans III is managing director of BMe Community.