It seems that whenever an African-American man or boy is in the news these days, it’s for doing something dark and nefarious.
In Philadelphia, even the most high-profile athlete in the city, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, has done jail time.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has been making gifting grants to communities all across the country for years, has noticed as well. And to circumvent the bad news, the Knight Foundation has partnered with the Open Society Foundation to make a change.
Having awarded more than $105 million in grants in 2009, the Knight Foundation is looking to bestow some of that money on the men of Philadelphia through the BME (Black Male Engagement) Challenge, the goal being to highlight African-American men and boys in the city who are making a positive impact in their communities, but won’t receive any recognition for the work they do.
Philadelphia and Detroit are the target cities for these first-time awards.
“We want to shine a light on the brothers who help others achieve, who involved neighbors, friends and strangers in things that uplift the community,” said Trabian Shorters, Knight Foundation’s vice president of communities. “If you want to see more Black men and boys providing their leadership in an effort to strengthen their neighborhoods and this city, we want to amplify the positive impact that Black males have in their communities every day.”
The first phase of the projected ended on Sept. 30. During this time voters were encouraged to visit the Web site bmechallenge.org and make nominations. As of press time Monday, Philadelphia had 1,008 nominations and Detroit had 1,047.
The next phase is the application period. Anyone who has entered or been nominated will be able to formally apply for grants, ranging from $1,000 to $50,000. Winners will be announced in early January. Before that, the Knight Foundation is looking to bring all of the applicants together around Thanksgiving with friends and family to honor them.
“We want to uplift and highlight Black men who are engaged in their communities,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Philadelphia program director for the Knight Foundation, which is headquartered in Miami. “We decided to start by finding Black men who are already engaged in their communities and doing positive things. We wanted them to tell their stories about why they are doing positive things, and hopefully that will inspire others to do so also.”
There are no parameters, according to Frisby-Greenwood. All an entrant needs to be doing is something that benefits the community. Former Mayor, the Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr. has been nominated for his work with Amachi. Goode is the director and organizer of the nationally acclaimed faith-based mentoring program that focuses on children with incarcerated parents.
But there are other entrants with much lower profiles than Goode’s. There are barbers who through their trade employ others. One nominee cleans the alleys in his neighborhood daily. There is a security guard who lost his daughter to domestic violence who is now strongly advocates against abusive men.
“Being able to employ people in this economy is great,” Frisby-Greenwood said. “We have men doing so many different things. And in many cases they don’t know that there are grants available to them. We are looking for new and innovative things. They are out there.”
In 1950, the Knight Foundation began dispersing grants, mostly in a small region of the Midwest. In 1993, it reincorporated as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Cities that had Knight-Ridder newspapers — The Inquirer and Daily News were once a part of that chain — were designated as “Knight Communities” and, to this day, the company continues to fund grants in those 26 cities.
The Black Male Engagement Challenge is the fourth and latest competition set up by the Knight Foundation. The other three are the Knight Arts Challenge, the Knight News Challenge and the Knight Community Information Challenge.