Black male achievement: Where do we go from here?
The most effective way to solve societal problems is through the confluence and engagement of all the major sectors—private, public, and nonprofit. We must embrace the community sector, which is often underutilized and inadequately represented.
—Tonya Allen, CEO, The Skillman Foundation
Between doubt and your destiny is action. Between our community and the American Dream is your leadership.
—Robert F. Smith, Chairman, Fund 2 Foundation
There is good reason why the African proverb “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is so popular. The proverb is saturated with truth and power, serving as mission fuel for many movement leaders, racial justice organizations, and social change networks. Personifying this proverb is the chief reason why the Campaign for Black Male Achievement was able to transform from its original 3-year term limit when it was launched at the Open Society Foundation in 2008 into a 12-year field-building journey, seeding and supporting many local and national initiatives to improve the life outcomes of Black men and boys.
CBMA has gotten this far only because we traveled together with so many amazing cross-sector partners along the way. Although there’s way too many to list here, strategic partners such as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, Frontline Solutions, Echoing Green, PolicyLink, Root Cause, and Cities United have all helped CBMA to go further than the original timeline plan.
As we wind down a year that has been fraught with disruption and crisis as well as with transformation and opportunity—including the conclusion of the CBMA era with the sunsetting of our operations—I am especially thrilled to celebrate a partnership we have enjoyed since 2012, with Foundation Center and now Candid. Today we are publishing the BMA (Black Male Achievement) Legacy Collection. The BMA Legacy Collection and its accompanying Timeline of Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys are just two of several ways in which CBMA’s work will be memorialized. I hope they will serve as sources of inspiration and information for the continued BMA work in front of us.
The BMA Legacy Collection comprises more than 250 published reports presenting research, analysis, and strategic recommendations for strengthening the BMA field. Among this rich content, you will find and feel the inescapable #LoveLearnLead ethos that CBMA has brought to its work since 2008.
Dr. Shawn Ginwright declares that “the greatest act of social justice is self-care.” Self-care is rooted in self-compassion and self-love. One of the lasting imprints of CBMA has been the elevated focus of health, healing, and well-being to the BMA field, particularly for the cross-sector leaders who lean in daily to their work amid stress, resistance, and even backlash. The BMA Legacy Collection offers several reports that respond to the need to advance healing, well-being, and self-care in the BMA field. As Dr. Phyllis Hubbard notes in the Collection’s Journey to Radiance Report, funded by The California Endowment, we must “address unresolved emotional trauma and present it as a deep underlying root cause that, unless properly processed, can jeopardize our success and prevent us from thriving.”
The BMA Legacy Collection is a reservoir of learnings about the recent history of the evolving field of Black male achievement, including what we are learning about ourselves as a nation in the current racial reckoning accelerated by COVID-19 and the protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Over the years, CBMA has been known for the mission mantra and rallying cry that there is no cavalry coming to save the day in Black communities. We are the iconic leaders that we have been waiting for; curators of the change we’re seeking to see. Our curator role is critical in this moment, as we really don’t need another research report on Black men and boys as much as we need the curation and implementation of recommendations and strategies that have already been studied and produced.
We’ve been here before. A recent NY Times Retro Report on the 1968 Kerner Commission Report reminds us that the findings of the report revealed that white racism against Black people and communities, including poverty and police brutality, were the source of social unrest and disorder in the 1960s. But the report’s recommendations were largely ignored by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, policy makers, and those with their hands on the levers to the resources required to fuel changes proposed in the report. Almost 53 years later, our nation has still failed to effectively respond to the recommendations of the Kerner Commission and is facing the same combustible conditions we witnessed across America in the 1960s. The brutal lessons of this nation will continue to be repeated until they are learned.
It was the first week of March, and I was debating with my mother about my plans to visit her in South Florida to celebrate her 80th birthday in mid-April. I was confident that I could not, would not miss traveling to be with her in person for her milestone birthday. In her infinite Jamaican woman wisdom, my mom cautioned me to prepare for a coming travel lockdown due to the spreading COVID-19 coronavirus. Then she said something that paused me in mid-rebuttal. “What we are experiencing, Shawn, is a fault line in humanity.”
My mom made this statement before Breonna Taylor was murdered, before George Floyd was murdered, before there were more than 100 U.S. deaths due to the pandemic, before a bitter election cycle that revealed that the racial reckoning many felt we were experiencing was being rivaled by a racial retrenchment with attempts to suppress and discount Black voters. Mom was right—again—we have experienced a fault line in humanity, one that requires answers to the question, Where do we go from here?
“Most people overestimate what they can do in a day, and underestimate what they can do in a month. We overestimate what we can do in a year, and underestimate what we can accomplish in a decade,” writes Matthew Kelly in his book 2014 book, The Long View.
The BMA Timeline of Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys lifts up many noteworthy accomplishments since 1992. As racial justice leaders I would venture to say that the more important time line is the one that looks forward rather than backwards. What change might we create if we collectively created a timeline with 2030 as the point of departure and worked our ways backward, populating the timeline with bold predictions followed by some serious rumbling, as Muhammad Ali used to do by declaring the round in which he planned to knock out his opponent?
As we look out the window toward the future of this work and what milestones we envision adding to the BMA time line, it is important for the field to also hold up a mirror to its work to ideally identify blind spots, even blemishes, in our collective work since the inception of CBMA 12 years ago.
For example, a recent Executives Alliance webinar, Connecting Our Work, Strengthening Our Community, explored the missed opportunities for the BMA field to focus more with an intersectionality lens and build solidarity with leaders advancing Black women and girls work. Marcus Littles recently penned a personal and probing piece in the NonProfit Quarterly, “2020, White Supremacy, Black Male Leadership, and Me,” which explores how we can often be complicit in perpetuating the structural barriers we actually seek to eradicate.
In the first report CBMA and Candid published together eight years ago, George Soros noted that the issue of Black male achievement was “a generational problem. It demands a long-term commitment.” That remains true today. As we decide how we show up to lead, I encourage us all to embrace a proverb of CBMA board chair Tonya Allen’s grandmother: “Let’s go as far as we can and then see how far we can go.” As long as we go together.