146 Years of Experience

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Today at the Investing in Black Make Achievement: Accelerating What Works conference, seven nonprofit leaders from across the country will take the stage in front of a room of funders and share how their organizations are improving the life outcomes of black men and boys. Together they have a combined 146 years experience in improving life outcomes for black men and boys nationwide.

These leaders represent the inaugural cohort of Black Male Achievement Innovators: Charles Small, President & CEO, Don Bosco Hall; David Banks, President & CEO, Eagle Academy Foundation; Dori Maynard, President, The Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education; Joe Jones, President & CEO, Center for Urban Families; Dr. John Jackson, President & CEO, The Schott Foundation for Public Education; Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director, Advancement Project; and Dr. Nathan Sessoms, VP Programs and Operations, Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade.

I founded Root Cause more than 10 years ago because I believe strengthening the capacity of organizations working on social issues and allocating resources based on what works will accelerate solutions. In this time, I have worked with countless leaders, and I have never seen more passion, commitment, and deep-rooted experience than from these seven.

“Why is that?” I asked myself. I have worked with other amazing social sector leaders over the years, and by no means want to minimize the important work they are doing. But there is something different about these BMA Innovators…

In helping myself better understand this conclusion, I went back to one of the key premises of what makes a successful entrepreneur—that past experience helps them to identify a gap in the market, and they then use that life experience to successfully fill it.

This case is no different, only here we also are talking about experiences shaped by race as well as real life. As a white man of privilege working in the field of black male achievement, leading the capacity building and organizational sustainability efforts for the Institute for Black Male Achievement, I have come to both understand and appreciate that just because you want to do good, does not mean that you should be on the frontlines doing it. You see, all seven BMA Innovators are African-American leaders. All seven have had some sort of life and/or career experience in the work they do. And all seven have proven their organizations know what works. Yet, they are not household names like Bill Gates or Wendy Kopp of Teach for America. But they should be, because these leaders bring the same level of innovation, knowledge, and perspective for their given fields.

The BMA Innovators are leading the way on the country’s increased focus on eliminating long-standing disparities facing black men and boys in America. However, philanthropy and government need to catch up. They need to look at these leaders, and many others across the country also doing this work, as the experts. The BMA Innovators are the social entrepreneurs that we should seek advice from and to whom we should be providing a greater share of the grants, donations, and government resources.

The disparities facing black men and boys in America are alarming. We are missing out on huge human potential and contributions from a large segment of our citizens. Yet, I remain hopeful that we are in a moment of opportunity to make lasting change, particularly by investing in the people who work with the systems and polices that most affect black men and boys. Today, the BMA Innovators provide us with hope and a path forward that we sorely need. If we listen to and resource them, we can reverse the tide.

Andrew Wolk is the founder and CEO of Root Cause, a nonprofit consulting and research firm. Root Cause also co-leads the Institute on Black Male Achievement (IBMA) with PolicyLink. IBMA is a national membership network of more than 1,800 organizations working to improve the life outcomes for black men and boys.