Ten BMe Mi­ami ‘Com­mu­nity Ge­niuses’ re­ceive $100,000

South Florida Times - - METRO - By JARRELL DOUSE Spe­cial to South Florida Times

MI­AMI - Ten black Mi­ami men whose com­mu­nal causes pro­duce op­por­tu­ni­ties for up­ward mo­bil­ity through­out ur­ban pock­ets of South Florida were honored for their ef­forts.

On Jun. 21, BMe Com­mu­nity, an award­win­ning so­cial en­ter­prise, rec­og­nized the group dur­ing its 2017 BMe Com­mu­nity Ge­nius Awards cer­e­mony at Mi­ami-Dade Col­lege Wolf­son Cam­pus.

The re­cip­i­ents each re­ceived a $10,000 hon­o­rar­ium to be used to fi­nance in­di­vid­ual projects. Com­pris­ing a cor­nu­copia of pro­fes­sional and per­sonal back­grounds and ex­pe­ri­ences, the group in­cluded Mi­ami Gar­dens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, who said he views the BMe Com­mu­nity as an an­tithe­sis to the per­va­sive per­cep­tion of black men as mis­cre­ant, in­clined to vi­o­lence and ab­sen­tee fathers.

“The em­pha­sis of BMe is that it al­lows black men to tell our story best. One of the things that [we] do even as a com­mu­nity is that we tend to high­light the bad things,” he said.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar as­sump­tion Gilbert added, “In much greater num­bers we are do­ing ex­tra­or­di­nary things. BMe ac­tu­ally high­lights them. It high­lights black men be­ing pro­duc­tive in their com­mu­ni­ties, ac­tu­ally be­ing fathers, ac­tu­ally be­ing busi­ness own­ers, ac­tu­ally con­tribut­ing to the com­mu­nity.”

Sir Charles Hill is an awardee who has been able to turn life’s lemons into le­mon­ade. The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of EcoTech Vi­sions Foun­da­tion knows the im­por­tance of chang­ing one’s life tra­jec­tory.

He dubs him­self the poster child of op­ti­mism. His par­ents were drug ad­dicted, crime con­victed and he was ac­quainted with the foster care sys­tem.

“Life is not what you let hap­pen; life is what you make hap­pen,” Hill said.“Be­cause your par­ents went through cer­tain things, your fam­ily mem­bers are deal­ing with cer­tain things or your boys are go­ing through the breaks, you can some­times feel like it is go­ing to hap­pen to you, but you can change the out­come.”

“If you have a men­tor, some­one you can latch onto, some­one in your cor­ner that can help you to see, the change you want for your­self is im­mea­sur­able,” Hill con­tin­ued, adding, “I’ve been there and I am will­ing to be that some­one to who­ever needs me.”

Ben­jamin Evans, Com­mu­nity Man­ager of Mi­ami's BMe Com­mu­nity sees Mi­ami as a city that the greater world is go­ing to need.

“We’re young, di­verse and rep­re­sent what Amer­ica will look like in 50 years.‘So, why not tell the nar­ra­tive of a com­mu­nity com­ing to­gether to dis­cuss is­sues that ev­ery­one cares about like safer streets, healthy en­vi­ron­ments, bet­ter schools and a stronger econ­omy?’” Evans asked.

Ac­cord­ing to Evans, lo­cal and re­gional com­mu­nity re­de­vel­op­ment must be­gin with the con­tri­bu­tions of black men if it is to have a global im­pact.

“We start with black men as a cat­a­lyst be­cause we’ve been the most de­mo­nized in the me­dia. The am­bi­tion is to re­move the black face off of crime, re­move the black face off of com­mu­nity is­sues, poverty … and tell the fuller story of how we’re giv­ing back to the com­mu­nity and that we can be an ex­am­ple for other cities around the coun­try,” Evans said.

Ma­lik Ben­jamin, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of In­sti­tute of Col­lab­o­ra­tion In­no­va­tion, LLC and founder of Cre­ative Morn­ings Mi­ami is both hope­ful and crit­i­cal about black Mi­ami’s pro­gres­sion.

“It is time for us to be dif­fer­ent from ev­ery other city be­fore us and, right now, we’re mak­ing the same mis­takes and that makes no sense be­cause we have the tal­ent here and peo­ple are look­ing in the wrong places and not re­spect­ing the tal­ent that ex­ists,” Ben­jamin said.

While Ben­jamin said he’s grate­ful for be­ing ac­knowl­edged as a com­mu­nity ge­nius, he vac­il­lates be­tween ap­pre­ci­a­tion and angst.

“Out of the 10 peo­ple here, when we ar­rived in DC for a sum­mit we didn’t know who was cho­sen to re­ceive the BMe Com­mu­nity Ge­nius Award. The mayor was the only per­son I knew. Ev­ery­one else knew maybe one other per­son,” Ben­jamin said. “The prob­lem is when you see awards go out from other or­ga­ni­za­tions or foun­da­tions they go to the same peo­ple. And the fact that Tra­bian Shorter, Ben­jamin Evans and Sara Bouchereau (founders of BMe) can sit down and start ask­ing peo­ple to choose peo­ple who are the ge­niuses in their com­mu­ni­ties and the fact that we didn’t know each other be­fore­hand but, if we did we would’ve been work­ing with each other is some­thing that needs to change.”

Ben­jamin said Black Mi­ami needs global power.

“There’s a lot out there in terms of own­er­ship. Own­er­ship is big busi­ness. There is a trend in global own­er­ship that is tak­ing place right here when some­one who is nowhere near your city is buy­ing the prop­erty and push­ing you out,” Ben­jamin added.“For older peo­ple who may want to sell their homes we want to be able to pay them so they can make money, move on and we keep our com­mu­ni­ties in­tact. The goal is to have our com­mu­ni­ties own our com­mu­ni­ties. An in­crease in com­mu­nity own­er­ship is about busi­ness, homes, parks, pol­icy, elected of­fi­cials – it’s about own­ing ev­ery­thing and that is power!”

Other BMe Mi­ami awardees in­clude: Mario Bailey, Se­nior Gov­ern­ment Re­la­tions Con­sul­tant of Becker and Poilakoff and founder of Mary’s Kids; Chad Cherry, owner and CEO of Re­fresh Live Café, Inc.; Damian Da­ley, found­ing part­ner of Wil­son Da­ley, PLLC and Vice Chair of the Board of Di­rec­tors of Cat­a­lyst Mi­ami; James Mun­gin, Tech­ni­cal Di­rec­tor of the African Her­itage Cul­tural Arts Cen­ter; Dawyen Seka­jipo, pres­i­dent and CEO of Seka­jipo for the Peo­ple Pro­duc­tions, LLC.; Kevin Smith, Di­rec­tor of Smith Cap­i­tal In­vest­ments and a mem­ber of the Mil­len­nial In­vest­ment Group, which works with OneUnited Bank to pur­chase and up­grade hous­ing for more sus­tain­able com­mu­ni­ties; and Rev. Joaquin Wil­lis, Pas­tor of Church of the Open Door.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit www.bmecom­mu­nity.org.

PHO­TOS COUR­TESY OF MI­AMI DADE COL­LEGE ME­DIA DEPART­MENT

Left to right: Mi­ami Gar­dens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, lob­by­ist and phi­lan­thropist Mario Bailey, Pas­tor of Church of the Open Door Rev. Joaquin Wil­lis and Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of EcoTech Vi­sions Foun­da­tion Sir Charles Hill were among those awarded for ser­vice.

Ben­jamin Evans, BMe Mi­ami Com­mu­nity Man­ager, ad­dresses the crowd.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MI­AMI DADE COL­LEGE ME­DIA DEPART­MENT

Left to right: Fel­low BMe leader and at­tor­ney Mar­lon Hill, BMe Mi­ami Com­mu­nity Man­ager Ben­jamin Evans, BMe awardee James Mun­gin and BMe Mi­ami Chief of Staff Sarah Bouchereau at the Black Male Ge­nius awards, held Wed­nes­day, June 21.

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