He’s spent his entire career looking at ways to help people empower themselves, now Trabian Shorters, former Vice President, Communities, Knight Foundation, is launching a cultural play to “make it easier for good brothers to have access to what they need.”
Growing up in Pontiac, Michigan, when “crack was new,” Trabian Shorters says he saw poor communities become ghettos and ghettos become “hellholes.”
He compared the 1989 documentary film directed by Michael Moore, Roger & Me – which portrays the regional negative economic impact of General Motors CEO Roger Smith’s summary action of losing several auto plants in Flint, Michigan – as “Pontiac’s story.”
Reflecting on how it felt to watch is hometown be crushed by guns and drugs, Shorters recalls the exact moment that he knew he needed to take action to mobilize his community.
“I distinctly remember one of these guys on TV, it was on Phil Donahue – back when talk shows talked about stuff – and this guy was talking about how he doesn’t understand where all this gang-banging and drug dealing comes from, because in his generation they sang ‘we shall overcome’ and this generation seems to have lost its mind. I was 14 years-old, you know, in a neighborhood full of violence and I got really pissed, because I was like: ‘when did the kids become responsible for the conditions of the neighborhood? I’m scared to walk to school and this guy is saying it’s my fault. So in my mind and in my heart, I decided that if we’re ever going to get out of the hood – out of that sick, violent and hurt mentality – we were the only ones who could make it happen. So I made that decision at 14, I didn’t know what to do about it; but I knew I’d do whatever I could.”
He also knew he was smart and he applied his genius, which rewarded him with a scholarship to Cranbook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Later he received a journalism degree from Michigan State University. According to Shorters, he’s spent his entire professional career looking at ways to help people empower themselves, which included his first “real job,” where he worked at The Detroit News.
“I thought if I told the stories better people would care differently – from a journalism perspective… not so much,” he says, chuckling.
Shorters went on to work at several world-class organizations, such as: Points of Light Foundation, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service, the National Urban Coalition, Ashoka, the largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide and then in 2007, he joined the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the nation’s leading journalism funder, where he managed $300 million in active grants across 26 cities, as their Vice President of Communities.
In June of 2013, in Detroit, Michigan, at the Gathering of Leaders Conference, Shorters publicly announced his decision to resign from the more than 50 year-old foundation, in order to become the full-time CEO of BMe, a ground-breaking network of inspired black men.
“This work is really about believing in brotherhood; it’s not a tool, strategy or instrument; it’s a belief; I’ve committed my life too it,” Shorters explains.
Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Philadelphia Program Director, Knight Foundation, was part of the executive planning team that has helped craft BMe to its best self. Frisby-Greenwood, who credits Shorters for bringing her into the world of philanthropy, tells me during an exclusive interview that the initiative was originally going to be called “The Proof Project.” Her personal ties to BMe, however, go deeper than boardroom conversations and strategy sessions, as she informs me that the genesis of the idea started with the goal of honoring everyday “good men” who strengthen their communities, “a program that would honor people like my father and uncle, if they were still alive,” she said.
Shorters can explain BMe in four simple words: “black men are assets.”
“BMe is asset orientated and it’s based on growth. If we’re going to build communities, we have to start with the brothers, because they have resources that money can’t buy, like, knowledge, heart, connection and trust,” asserts Shorters, as he reveals that this is the same argument he used at Knight Foundation to get an initial buy in from the board of directors.
Frisby-Greenwood tells me the conversation about a program for black men went on for a few years before BMe actually made its two-city pilot launch in Philadelphia and Detroit in 2011/12. Now, BMe has the full support of the billion-dollar foundation, even receiving a $3.6 million grant in June—Which was announced in September—to support the launch.
“Over the past two years, BMe attracted support from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life. The power going forward will be in staying true to the vision: that black men and boys are community assets who, working together, can make our communities better,” stated Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen, in a press release.
BMe is also supported by Open Society Foundations. Leading up their campaign for Black Male Achievement is Shawn Dove, who called BMe a “transformational model,” and applauds Shorters for taking the risk to move into a new social venture.
“BMe captures the imagination of cities and mobilizes people to be proactively and positively engaged in their communities. There is no cavalry coming to save our communities, but BMe reminds us that the iconic leaders we’ve been waiting for are already here in the form of thousands of black men who quietly and consistently make positive differences in the lives of others,” says Dove, who joined Shorters in Miami last weekend for winter retreat, which welcomed over 100 change agents working in the field of black male achievement and social entrepreneurship.
Grateful for the relationship he has with Shawn Dove, Shorters emphasizes that the reason they are successful in their collective work is because they share a vision and have each other’s back.
“The story with me and Shawn is the same story we want to have with everybody else in BMe, which is: yeah, you’re strong individually, but you’re unstoppable together; that’s what we’re trying to get to.”
BMe will formally launch near or on Martin Luther King Day in January 2014.
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Source: TBO Inc®
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