Batter Up: Shawn Dove, CEO, Campaign for Black Male Achievement
Founded in 2008, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement supports a nationwide network of leaders and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of black men and boys. More than 5,000 individuals and 3,000 organizations are united in that effort, under the leadership of CEO Shawn Dove. A New York City native and graduate of Wesleyan University and Columbia Business School, Shawn worked in youth development and community building for two decades prior to heading up the CBMA and helped conceptualize My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative launched by Barack and Michelle Obama. Shawn is being honored at the 2016 BASE Ball for his life-changing work as a social entrepreneur and movement leader.
Give us a snapshot of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement today.
It has become a catalyst for empowering the black male achievement movement. We believe the work of organizations committed to improving the outcomes for black men and boys must be sustained and grown. That mission is generational. We did not get here overnight. And what got us here won’t get us there. Meaning, while we have an impressive history behind us, we cannot rest on those laurels.
How do you measure success?
We’ve identified high school excellence as the measure by which we’ll hold ourselves accountable. Yet all our work resides at the intersection of movement building and field-work building. And while our narrow-angle lens is on black men and boys, our wide-angle lens is much broader. It’s not only about shifting how communities of color are perceived but what kinds of resources and opportunities they get.
How much change are you seeing?
There’s a movement building to view black men and boys not as a deficit — as criminals and other negative stereotypes — but as an asset. One of our mantras is that black people need to become masters of our own media. There’s never been a better time to tell our own story through unconventional means. If you’re a young person with a smartphone and YouTube account, you can do that.
Overall, you’re basically optimistic?
I’d be tone deaf to say we’re not still in the fight of our lives. Without getting political, we’re about to see how great that fight will be. Still, re-imagining how black men and boys are perceived is a fever that’s spreading. It’s important, too, that when deciding which organizations are worthy of large-scale investment, those being led by people of color have been leaning into this work long before it became trendy or popular.
You often say that the cavalry isn’t coming, that the necessary leadership is already in place. What do you mean by that?
Solutions to intractable problems lie in the hands and hearts of communities and individuals – not in the philanthropic-messiah complex that says, “We are here to save the day.” If you’re waiting for a grant, or for some savior to come into your community, you’re going to be waiting forever. We are the iconic leaders we’ve been waiting for. I look at someone like Robert Lewis Jr. — who, like myself, worked in philanthropy before deciding to stop stallin’ on his callin’ — and I am inspired by his leadership. Now, we have an obligation to support organizations like The BASE so they don’t have to scratch and claw for resources.
- Joe Kahn