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Black Male Engagement (BME) Award Winners Receive a Combined $443,000 to Strengthen Communities

Black Male Engagement (BME) Award Winners Receive a Combined $443,000 to Strengthen Communities

Twenty men-teachers, businessmen, writers and pastors-have been named winners of the BME Leadership Award, created to honor black men in Philadelphia and Detroit who step up to lead the community.

“There is no cavalry coming to save the day in black communities in America. The answers we’re looking for reside right within the hearts, hands, and heads of community residents,” said Shawn Dove, manager of the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement, which is helping to sponsor the award. “BME recognizes black men and boys as assets to the community, not as problems to be solved, and we’re thrilled to be a partner in this strategy.”

The BME Challenge offers the winners a combined $443,000 with the aim of inspiring others to step forward to strengthen their communities.

The funding will pair young people with senior citizens and culinary experts to plant vegetable gardens in vacant lots, equip new fathers parenting skills, provide therapy for autistic children, help veterans find services, and more. The winners’ stories, and information on their projects, are below. See and share videos of them at

The BME Leadership Award is part of the BME Challenge, which is pronounced “Be Me” and stands for Black Male Engagement. BME is led by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

Earlier this year, BME asked local black men and boys in its two pilot cities to share the stories of what they do to make their communities stronger. More than 2,000 people in Detroit and Philadelphia submitted personal video and written testimonials, viewable at Those who shared their stories were then eligible to apply for funding through the BME Leadership Award.

BME is an ongoing initiative that seeks to recognize, reinforce and reward black males who engage others in making communities stronger.

“The award shines a light on a truth that we need to remember: there are thousands of black men in these cities who choose to make it a stronger and better place to live for all of us,” said Trabian Shorters, one of the leaders behind the BME Challenge, which sponsors the award. “Perhaps if we tell their stories and others decide to support their efforts, you will see more and more black men and boys willing to follow their example.”

This spring, BME will be looking for local partnerships in Detroit and Philadelphia to encourage more black males to positively engage in their communities. This summer, BME will conduct another call for stories, to be followed in the fall by a call for a new round of applications to the BME Leadership Award.

The winners of the 2012 Black Male Engagement Leadership Award are:


Eddie Connor

Connor survived cancer as a young teenager and has since dedicated his life to serving as a teacher and mentor, working through schools and media to help young people understand their potential.

Project: Connor will lead book clubs at schools and at off-site field trips to expose Detroit teenagers to important life skills and character traits that he has embraced during his life. ($10,000)

Andre Dandridge

Dandridge is a law school graduate who helps small businesses overcome legal obstacles. As a young parent himself, he founded New Young Fathers, a local initiative to help equip young men with the skills they need to be great dads.

Project: Dandridge will lead a series of in-depth workshops that New Young Fathers will conduct across the city. The workshops are designed to better prepare young men for fatherhood and help them become more aware of their potential. ($25,000)

Brook Ellis

Ellis was in prison when his life was transformed by reading the biography of Reginald Lewis – lawyer, investor, philanthropist, and the wealthiest black man of his day.

Project: The Reginald Francis Lewis Reading Academy will strive to improve literacy, civic responsibility, and academic achievement at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School. Each enrolled student will read and write a self-affirming essay on the Reginald Lewis biography and “Lonely At The Top” a new e-memoir by his daughter, Christina Lewis-Helpern, and be exposed to a literacy mentor; 30 boys will participate in a competitive college readiness program at Michigan State University. ($40,000)

Emu Michael Kumane

Kumane is a manager in the auto industry who volunteers at local schools through Big Brothers Big Sisters Detroit.

Project: Drawing on his network in schools and in the corporate community, Kumane will lead a project to expose 100 young people to the business world. They’ll meet with 20 local businesses, learn how the businesses work, and devise a plan for an enterprise they’d like to start. ($25,000)


Curtis Lipscomb

After coming out as a gay man with HIV/AIDS, Lipscomb began helping young people around him take action against discrimination.

Project: Lipscomb will oversee the LEAD project, which will facilitate an in-depth training of 22 young Detroiters to become more effective advocates of social issues facing the city’s LGBT community. ($20,000)


Miguel Pope

Pope is a global career development facilitator and motivational life coach who advises and volunteers for various community projects in his neighborhood and the city.

Project: Pope will launch Be Exposed, a program to inspire ambition in young people by exposing them to new cultural and social activities, including shows, restaurants, and field trips to new cities. ($5,000)


Shaka Senghor

Senghor started writing while he was incarcerated and later developed a career as an author and speaker who inspires young people with his voice.

Project: Senghor will launch and oversee the Live in Peace Digital and Literary Arts Project, which will coach young people on how to fully express their life stories across media. The project will result in each young person creating his or her personal “anthology” of stories. ($25,000)


Yusef Shakur

Shakur is a formerly incarcerated person who has become a well-known community activist focused on youth empowerment in a Detroit neighborhood known as Zone 8.

Project: Shakur will increase the impact of the cyber café he has opened in his neighborhood by providing literacy classes, digital training, and school supplies to young people in the neighborhood. ($10,000)


Dennis Talbert

Talbert, a former media executive, is now a pastor devoting himself to mentoring youth in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood.

Project: Talbert will lead Rescue 51, an initiative of four BME Challenge participants to develop literacy skills, character, and a knowledge of health and wellness issues for 51 children in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. ($20,000)


Fran Westbrooks

Westbrooks is an advertising executive who founded Detroit Comeback Kids, which offers young Detroiters innovative, project-based experiences across the city.

Project: Through Detroit Comeback Kids, Westbrooks will help kids plant vegetable gardens in unused lots across the city by matching young Detroiters with local culinary arts experts and senior citizens who own vacant lots they seek to beautify. Small vegetable stands will offer extra produce to the community. ($20,000)

The winners of the 2012 BME Leadership Award in Philadelphia are:


Greg Corbin

Corbin is a teacher who integrates hip-hop, spoken word, and poetry into his classroom lessons to help better reach students. He also founded the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.

Project: Corbin will launch The Legacy Project, which will explore the multi-layered experience of Black men through a one-man theatrical performance and community workshops. ($25,000)


Tyree Dumas

Dumas is the founder of DollarBoyz, a youth entertainment company, and CEO of Youth Now On Top (Y-Not).

Project: Dumas will lead Y-Not Youth, an after-school program that offers a safe haven, dance instruction, and homework help. ($35,000)


Russell Hicks

Hicks owns Ebony Suns Enterprises, a consulting business that provides social media training for youth and social entrepreneurship programming to schools and nonprofits.

Project: Hicks will lead FLASH MOB, where young black men will learn how to create – and then implement – a business-branding campaign via social media. ($20,500)


Brandon Jones

Jones, who was formerly incarcerated, works to reduce the amount of shootings in North Philadelphia by mentoring high-risk youth and mobilizing the community.

Project: Jones will create a curriculum that helps prevents youth from going to prison and returning citizens from recidivating. ($35,000)


Reuben Jones

While serving a 15-year prison sentence, Jones fought and won custody of his son. After his release, he founded Frontline Dads to help others in similar situations deal with custody and child support issues. The group also conducts a mentoring program for at-risk youth. Jones pursued a career as a therapist and has a master of human services degree.

Project: Jones will launch the Frontline Dads Comprehensive Transformation Initiative, a mentoring/intervention program that fosters critical thinking skills, conflict resolution, creative expression, and counseling. ($20,000)


Solomon Jones

Jones, who originally dropped out of college, overcame addiction and homelessness and pursued a degree and a career as an author of seven novels, an award-winning columnist, and a professor at Temple University.

Project: Jones will expand Words on the Street literacy program, which aims to increase the literacy of more than 600 students through role modeling, workshops, and the opportunity to write a story that will be published in The Philadelphia Inquirer. ($20,000)


Ari Merretazon
Merretazon is a Vietnam veteran who shared his life story in an anthology on black veterans and has since worked to help those returning from war. The movie “Dead Presidents” was loosely based on his life.

Project: Merretazon will expand Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, a group of Vietnam and Desert Storm veterans, to help returning veterans from the Middle East find counseling, job services, and benefits. ($25,000)


Alex Peay

During his sophomore year in college, Peay founded the mentoring program Rising Sons. After losing interest in going to law school after graduation, he decided to bring his organization to Philadelphia and dedicate his life to help black males achieve their goals, dreams, and ambitions.

Project: Peay will strengthen Rising Sons, an after-school program where recent college graduates and college students between 18-25 mentor boys at three Philadelphia public high schools. Rising Sons will also train students to mentor boys at two local elementary schools. ($4,650)


Eric D. Williams

Williams is the father of three children, one of whom is autistic. When he couldn’t find services for autistic children in his neighborhood, he started his own.

Project: Williams will expand Project Elijah Empowering Autism, an after-school program for middle-spectrum autistic students ages 8-14. The group will open a new facility in Philadelphia in 2012, and will use the funding to offer speech, gross motor, recreation, music, and life skills therapies. ($38,700)


Shawn White

White is a recording artist/producer and the project director for the University of Pennsylvania’s “Shape Up: Barbers Building Better Brothers program”, which conducts HIV/AIDS and violence prevention through barbers and their clients.

Project: White will launch Phreman Audio Studio Academy, which will teach audio recording and mixing to young people while promoting HIV/AIDS prevention and anti-violence strategies. ($19,300).


Contact Maria Archuleta about this release at or call 1-212-547-6916




The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit


Active in more than 70 countries, the Open Society Foundations work to build vibrant and tolerant democracies whose governments are accountable to their citizens. Working with local communities, the Open Society Foundations support justice and human rights, freedom of expression, and access to public health and education.



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