Dennis Talbert builds bright spots in Brightmoor.
Dennis Talbert, 61, is a man who knows somebody that knows somebody. In Brightmoor, Detroit, one of the poorer communities in the Midwest, he is a champion for young people who aim to be catalysts for change.
Talbert, a Detroit native and former media executive, moved to the Brightmoor community in the early 90s because he had a deep faith in the potential to scale socioeconomic solutions in the community. Talbert serves as that ‘spark plug’ in the community, a man who will either provide the necessary resources or find someone who can.
He says that significant change for Black people in Detroit must begin with a strategy to scale. Opportunities to scale the model, he says, begin with collaboration. As founder and president of Empower Outreach, a social entrepreneurial project, Talbert works both collectively and individually to help lead youth-focused mentorship programs.
“In 1998 we were all doing similar things,” Talbert said. “Our separate Brightmoor initiatives, like the martial arts group, had gaps in the need for academic tutoring; other programs didn’t offer any kind of outside mentorship. I told our staff that, collectively, we can meet every kid’s need.”
Several of Talbert’s collaborative programs have received recognition from the federal government, in addition to funding from philanthropies nationwide. One program, Rescue 51, aims to help 51 sixth and seventh graders to build literacy skills, increase health awareness, and ensure year-after-year that they are on the path to graduate high school.
His work on Rescue 51 is one of the reason Talbert earned a BMe Leadership Award in 2012. BMe (pronounced “Be Me”) is a community that regards black men as assets to society. Backed by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Heinz Endowment; BMe is spreading its message across the country and is beginning to operate year-round in Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The BMe Leader Award is given to black men whose authenticity, care, and commitment to inspire others.
The money he received as part of the award has allowed several academic and athletic programs to purchase equipment and launch summer camps. The collaboration has launched a peer health education program called Teach For Impact, in addition to the highly-involved youth mentoring program.
Talbert says that while local collaborations like Rescue 51 would have taken place regardless of the grant, connecting to the BMe Community does take the program to the next level.
“All of this is the story of collaboration,” he said. “I am most excited about the connection to BMe because it’s an opportunity to collaborate with brothers across the nation. I’m working with BMe Leader, Yusef Shakur, to host his book release. We’re also hosting three community talks about his story of redemption and working with BMe Leader, Keith Young, to teach coding to our middle school students.”
Talbert has good faith that the program and collaborative efforts between local leaders will continue to grow stronger and scale themselves.
“When your primary investment is young people, young people will then reinvest in their own communities,” Talbert said. “That change in trajectory happens out of their hearts and the shared compassion that we all must help to grow.”
Jenna Buehler is the managing director of Miami-based, Jenna Made Productions. She is a former communications associate at the Knight Foundation where she served as a contributing writer.
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Photo: C. Norris