Dear NextGen Black Male Leaders: Can we talk? Brother to brother? Heart to heart?
I’ve been thinking of you. With all that’s happening in our communities, in our education system, in our political and justice systems, there is no shortage of social justice issues that require our immediate attention. But I couldn’t be more proud — nor am I surprised — by the fact that Black men all around us have risen to the occasion.
Brother Sharif El-Mekki is doing an amazing job bringing attention and action to increasing the number of Black males inside the preK through 12th grade education space. Brother and State Representative Jordan Harris is turning the criminal justice system on its head while Brother Malcolm Jenkins and Brother Howard Stevenson are other great examples doing phenomenal work.
Time and space don’t permit me to shout out every Black male who is making a real difference for our beloved community. At the same time, we acknowledge the countless men of color who are giving back and advancing our communities whether they have formal titles or not. The point is, as executive director of a leading education nonprofit in Philadelphia, I’m fortunate to share the leadership space with so many thoughtful and dedicated Black men across our city. Black men who are working diligently to right the wrongs of injustice and reversing inequities faced by so many.
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Because of this, I don’t have to tell you there is a place of fierce urgency that we as leaders must operate from while looking ahead towards a vision for a better tomorrow.
To the young brothers rising in the ranks: we see you. We need you. The leadership positions held by me and others need successors and we need to apply the same sense of urgency to passing the mantle to our brothers up-and-coming. We also need you to start your own organizations as answers to these persisting issues.
We know that the perspectives to approaching and tackling the challenges of our society are broadened and open to even more innovation when Black men are involved. Oftentimes we bring first-hand experience of being impacted by social injustices. Other times, we’ve been recipients of the services that are in place to correct disparities. As a result, we contribute a unique empathy and understanding to the audiences we serve. These contributions then translate into more equitable policies and decision-making.
Finally, having brothers like yourself ready to take the baton is important as it reinforces the notion of “see us to be us.” Seeing more Black men in leadership roles, hearing from more, understanding what they do, and why, will show those coming up behind you that holding positions of leadership is obtainable for us. Not only is it obtainable, but I have no doubt you all will take things to new and greater heights.
Still, assuming leadership as a Black male is not an easy feat. From my own experience, I can tell you that you’ll encounter everything from having to educate on why statements and messaging are problematic for their racist content, to being considered threatening enough to have job offers made to you — unsolicited — just to move you out of your position. You may even be penalized for being unable to meet unrealistic goals.
There’s also the seemingly never-ending judgment of your ability to be in leadership; to contribute intelligently or intellectually to what’s going on. While the notion of Imposter Syndrome is widely attributed to women in business, I can assure you it applies regardless of gender.
My dream for you: shake it off. Use the resilience you’ve built over the years and utilize the support systems you’ve had in family or close friends. Those systems will still be there and will play an important role in how you move and evolve as a leader.
Trust in yourself, your skills, and what you bring to the table.
I also hope you will know what it’s like to be affirmed in leadership. In my case, I’ve been championed by board members, lifted up and advocated for by supervisors, and room has been made for me to grow and flourish throughout my career. Likewise, I’d be remiss if I didn’t shout out initiatives like the Urban League of Philadelphia’s Philadelphia African-American Leadership Development Forum, a consistent and invaluable support system for me and others.
To my brothers, as men of color in leadership, there are days where you’ll be alone in whatever decision you’re making, plan you’re implementing, or idea you are building buy-in for. All of this comes with your role as a leader.
When that happens, trust in yourself, your skills, and what you bring to the table. Surround yourself with people of color from this world, the business arena, and other areas along with others who are willing to pour into you. Start/continue learning from them in big and small ways as well as intentional and coincidental ways.
I can’t wait to see all that you’re going to accomplish, and I look forward to supporting you as the changemakers you are.
Yours in service,
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