Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Detroit’s BME Leadership Award Winners address community issues with Michigan governor

May 7, 2012, 8:22 a.m., Posted by Elizabeth R. Miller

Shaka Senghor, a BME Leadership Award Winner

Detroit's BME Leadership Award winners met recently with Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder to talk about the most pressing issues facing both the state and the city.

The small, invite-only group discussion, which included the city’s Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis and other business and civic leaders, focused specifically on how to identify and help solve some of residents’, biggest challenges. BME is an effort to recognize, connect and invest in black males from all walks of life who engage others in making communities stronger.

All 10 BME Leadership Award Winners from Detroit were invited. Those able to attend included Emu Michael Kumane, Miguel Pope, Brook Ellis and Shaka Senghor. Reflecting on the forum, Senghor, who with support from BME will coach young people on how to fully express life stories across media, says he considered it an honor to participate. Senhor also says that he was impressed there was a good mixture of people from diverse backgrounds who participated in the meeting:

“Going in I didn't know what to expect, so I was very open to exchanging ideas about Detroit's future with those who are working hard to make a difference. Mary Kramer did a good job introducing the topic of how to turn Detroit around. [Gov. Snyder] sounded like he is really committed to seeing a better Detroit although we'll have to wait and see if his actions line up with his words...I took an opportunity to engage him in a brief discussion and told him about the work we are doing in the community and he appeared to be impressed by what I shared.  One of the things I pointed out was the importance of resources being allocated in underserved communities outside of Midtown and Downtown. When Gov. Snyder was finished speaking, each table was asked to identify the things they felt were important when it came to moving Detroit forward.”

Senhor says the attendees “concluded the most pressing issue facing Detroit is the high level of gun violence and the safety concerns of citizens,” and that he looks forward to seeing how the city can work collectively to turn things around.

Mary Kramer, the publisher of Crain’s Detroit Business who helped organize the conversation, wanted to invite those recognized by the BME Challenge to a variety of conversations that focused on challenges and opportunities for the community of Detroit and its future. Kramer said the recent forum with the governor and the deputy mayor was the “perfect opportunity” to do so.

Kramer, who attended the reception and awards program for the BME Leadership Award Winners in Detroit earlier this year, was impressed by the honorees she met. It led her to write a column about the BME Challenge called “Don’t ignore our problems - or heroes.” Kramer wrote it because the men honored “represent the ‘silent’ majority in Detroit.”

“Media focuses mostly on people who yell the loudest,” Kramer said. “In Detroit, we have a lot of coverage of what I call "the professional protester" crowd. The BME honorees were focused on ways each of them can make a difference. They are, in a sense, unsung heroes. And the future of Detroit rests on finding more of them.”

Rishi Jaitly, Knight’s Program Director in Detroit, said the invitation was a result of the winners’ reputation in the community and the BME partnerships that are being built citywide:

“We created BME to recognize, connect and invest in black men who step up and lead in the community. It's great to see others across the city partnering with BME members on what we can all accomplish together for our city. This more integrated citywide network is exactly what we hoped would result from BME and we know there will be more to come."

The BME Challenge is led by Knight Foundation in partnership with the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

As part of its campaign, BME asked local black men and boys in its two pilot cities of Detroit and Philadelphia to share the stories of what they do to make their communities stronger. More than 2,000 gave personal video and written testimonials viewable at bmechallenge.org.

Related: "A great night for Detroit at the Charles H. Wright Museum," by Rishi Jaitly and 'Twenty black men recognized for making Detroit and Philadelphia stronger."