This month, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) marks ten years of progress: catalyzing more than $200 million in investment in black male achievement while building a national movement to eliminate barriers to the success of African-American men and boys.
From the beginning, we committed to building beloved communities across America where black men and boys are healthy, thriving, and empowered to achieve their fullest potential — that is our core mission and rallying cry.
Leaders in philanthropy, government, and business were not always as focused on mobilizing the necessary investment to ensure that black men and boys — and boys and men of color more broadly — were recognized as assets to our communities and country. That’s why in 2008, at the Open Society Foundations, we launched CBMA in response to the growing need we saw in cities and communities across the nation where outcomes for black men and boys lagged far behind those of their white counterparts in all areas, including education, health, safety, jobs, and criminal justice involvement.
Over the last decade, together with our partners, we have catalyzed multiple national initiatives, including the Executives’ Alliance for Boys and Young Men of Color, the BMe Community, and Cities United. We played an instrumental role in helping former President Barack Obama launch My Brother’s Keeper, an initiative developed in the wake of his speech in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder trial of Trayvon Martin — asking ourselves, “How should philanthropy respond to Obama’s speech on black men and boys?”
CBMA was spun off from OSF as an independent entity in 2015, and today our work resides at the intersection of movement and field building, bolstered by a membership network of more than five thousand leaders and three thousand organizational partners. Our network includes inspired individuals like Robert Holmes, who directs the Chicago Aviation Career Education Academy at the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals. In partnering with CBMA, Holmes has widened the reach of his efforts to create an educational pathway for young black men interested in becoming pilots, helping diversify a critical industry that has little to no black male representation.
We have mobilized investments in education at the local level to help city leaders alter the conditions in which our young people grow up and set them on a path to better futures. In 2010, we seeded the launch of the nation’s first African American Male Achievement initiative in the Oakland Unified School District, with the goal of creating the systems, structures, and spaces needed to ensure success for all African-American male students. Similar initiatives have since been launched in Seattle, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia.
We are also implementing a High School Excellence framework in Detroit and spreading those best practices across our network to cities such as Oakland, Louisville, Milwaukee, and Baltimore.
Another important aspect of our work is changing media portrayals of and narratives around African-American men and boys. We know that the way black men and boys are viewed by the broader public shapes how they see themselves, and we want them to see what we see: talent and potential. In an effort to affirm accurate portrayals of black men and boys in the mainstream media, we launched a series of events under the name Black Male Reimagined to “acknowledge, explore, and celebrate the lived realities, hopes, dreams and challenges” of young black males.
We also have worked to build a sustained movement to champion black men and boys through leadership development and capacity building. The “Rumble Young Man, Rumble” event launched by CBMA in Louisville in 2011is today the preeminent gathering of leaders from across the country working on behalf of black men and boys.
All this has been made possible by philanthropic partners who have invested in black men and boys and bolstered the movement for black male achievement. They include the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust, the Ford Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the California Endowment, and the Casey Family Programs, to name a few.
And yet, as far as we have come, I am intentional in saying that we are acknowledging our accomplishments over the these ten years, as opposed to celebrating them. We cannot embrace a celebratory mindset when we consider the paradox of promise and peril still facing America’s black men and boys — on the one hand, a groundswell of activity and investments in support of black male achievement; on the other, continued racism, concentrated poverty, police violence, and systemic injustice.
We must collectively step outside our comfort zones to take even bolder action over the next decade. The millions of dollars we’ve leveraged since 2008 have not adequately translated into increased equity in terms of ownership, entrepreneurship, and social and economic mobility for black men, their families, and communities.
Our 2017 Quantifying Hope report, released jointly with Foundation Center, delivered hard news: while we have seen sporadic upticks over the past decade in philanthropic giving in support of black male achievement, the amount of funding and resources are vastly insufficient. According to the report, foundation funding explicitly benefiting black men and boys totaled $45.6 million in 2013 and $61.4 million in 2014, down from more than $64 million in 2012.
These numbers keep me coming back to the reason we spun off CBMA from Open Society: What this nation truly needs is not a Campaign for Black Male Achievement but a Corporation for Black Male Achievement — an endowed philanthropic social enterprise that will lean into this issue for the generation it will take to create lasting change.
We call on our partners in philanthropy, government, business, and community to join our efforts to keep building this movement over the next decade. We must walk hand-in-hand to the place where America’s black men and boys face a land of promise, not neverending peril. We must do better by our young people. Our collective future depends on it.
This commentary first appeared in the Foundation Center’s Philanthropy News Digest. Click here to read it there.