How does New York inspire you?
This is a place where the energy to pursue excellence and impeccable effort is all around you - whether it's someone selling fruit on the street all the way to the high-rise building where major deals are going down. Plus, as someone who finds inspiration being in elevated areas and near water, I appreciate that New York gives me both.
You moved to New York less than a year ago to take on a role as the director of social-emotional learning at The Urban Assembly, a charter school network. First. what is social-emotional learning?
It is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, to set and achieve goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships and make good decisions.
What does your job entail?
I work with principals and teachers at schools across the city to make them places where these skills can be taught to students. People think it just happens through life, but we can teach students goal-directed behavior, self-awareness, and self-management. In turn, they become better and more productive adults.
What nuance is required in your role based on the student population you serve?
Many of my students are coming from communities with extensive trauma. So it’s not just how can we help them build these skills for themselves, we also want them to take the skills into their community. A lot of times you hear people talk about social mobility, but what we need is social transformation. I want boys and girls in the South Bronx not to think, "I'm going to get these skills and then I'm going to have to move to Long Island,” but rather “I'm going to do well with these skills and I'm going come back, live in my same community and help transform it.”
You've been in your role for about eight months. What have you accomplished in that time?
98% of people say social-emotional skills are important and Google and Microsoft have listed them among the top 5 things kids need to learn now, but only 25% of schools successfully implement programs. We at The Urban Assembly have developed the foremost technology around the implementation of social-emotional learning with high fidelity. There is an assessment students take to measure development, but it’s great when I have the opportunity to back up the data with student voice.
Outside of work, you’ve been growing TheBlackManCan for eight years. What is it and how have you been able to make an impact?
TheBlackManCan is a non-profit and digital media platform focused on celebrating, educating, and inspiring Black men and boys. We have done over 50 of our summits spanning 12 states and over 6,000 boys. At the summits, boys are attending workshops, hearing from a keynote speaker, receiving copies of TheBlackManCan Journal as well as ties and more. We have built a mentoring network of over 300 men across the country who take part in the summits. It wasn’t even something I anticipated and I think what's been great is the brotherhood I've seen form. As a space that allows for Black men to be comfortable expressing who they are and get the tools and necessary information to be better, our social following has grown to over 300,000, which translates into over five million impressions weekly. We are a platform that showcases Black men doing good work in different communities to inspire others.
How did Morehouse influence you creating TheBlackManCan?
Growing up, I had a strong foundation from my mom but I fell victim to the defeated mindset the K-12 system creates in a lot of Black boys. Morehouse gave me an awareness and confidence as a Black man to return to that foundation by reminding me I walk in the footsteps of giants, am my brother’s keeper and will be great. While there I took a service leadership class and began a mentoring program on the east side of Atlanta, which was a birth of sorts for TheBlackManCan. It helped me see the real impact I could make as a business major with plans of making a lot of money in corporate America. During a debrief after bringing some students to Morehouse, one young man said the only other place he could imagine like it was jail. In all of our differences at Morehouse men, we all had dreams but no space to collect the narratives. Almost a year after graduating, I launched the blog.
Was the evolution from blog to non-profit planned?
It just happened, but I think our steps were ordered. I say that because when I started the blog years ago, the .com wasn’t available, so I bought and used .org. MK Asante is one of my favorite scholars and he says, "Once you make an observation, you have an obligation." I made an observation that boys and men of color need positive images to consume and their stories told. To fulfill my obligation, I had to work through ego. It’s necessary so you can see the possibilities and identify opportunities to pivot your business model while maintaining your broader vision. A book I love and encourage reading is Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Three years into the blog, we had over 200 interviews with men across the country and I thought to bring as many of them together as possible for our first summit in New Haven. It was successful and I decided to take it on tour to three more cities. To meet the demand for additional cities with funding, we had to become a non-profit to allow people to donate to the work.
What is your approach to obtaining funding and resources for TheBlackManCan?
Right now our major thing is the service fee for doing our summits. We are also wrapping up this year’s fundraising campaign, Raising Kings. We crossed the $25,000 mark of our $30,000 goal. But that’s really not enough money to do all the things we want to do, so we’re in the process of exploring the next phase of fundraising as well as a creating a company that funds the non-profit.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start an empowerment platform?
Just that, start. Don't stress if it doesn't hit the way you want because things can only get better. Trust me, I know how my stuff looked eight years ago. You have to persevere and turn your stumbling blocks into stepping stones. 7Up is called 7Up because they perfected the formula on the seventh try. WD40 stands for “water displacement perfected on the 40th try.” And you can guess how many times it took to get the chemicals right in 409. If you’re diligent and resilient, you will reach your goals.
Also, stay in tune with your why once you’ve figured it out. This platform has grown tremendously, creates revenue and I get to do cool things like sit on panels, but it’s not what I’m chasing. It knowing that we’ve made a real impact through stories people share.
What is a learned life lesson that has driven your success?
You can pray and see a therapist at the same time. It's healthy to have an unbiased opinion to share these things that are floating in your mind with, especially for men. We suffer in silence too much. Creating and taking advantage of spaces that allow us to be vulnerable will make us better men for ourselves, our women, our families and society as a whole.
What’s on the horizon for you?
Be on the lookout for our foray into children's literature as well as doing work with fifth grade and below. We’ve mostly focused on high school and college-aged boys, but we’re looking to impact younger boys to get ahead of the forecasting done based on third-grade reading scores.
How do you stay motivated as you strive to achieve your goals?
The spiritual side of my life is really important to keeping me motivated. When it comes to scripture there’s "a righteous man's steps are ordered by the Lord" which leads into “walk by faith, not by sight” which leads into “faith without works is dead.” What I want TheBlackManCan to be has already been decided as long as I do the work.
On my first day at Morehouse, a quote was shared from Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays, our sixth president, and he said “every man and women was put on this earth to do something unique and something distinctive. If he or she does not do it, it will never be done.” That always helps me remember there is a way I am supposed to impact and service the world and to keep going.