Black men and teens working to improve Baltimore can receive up to $20,000 for their community engagement projects, under a partnership between the Knight and Open Society foundations.
The BMe partnership, or the Black Male Engagement Initiative, will provide $200,000 total in grants for city residents who submit applications by March 1 for projects designed to engage other African-American fathers, entrepreneurs, students, artists and community activists. Applications also are open to black men working on Baltimore-based projects.
Cory McCray, a 30-year-old Overlea man, is part of the network of black men that BMe is trying to build in Baltimore as a way to strengthen the community. The married father of two said that after his children were born, he started focusing more on quality-of-life matters, such as strong schools and vibrant neighborhoods, so he joined several local advocacy groups.
"It is important for my generation of young black men to give back and make sure they don't fall by the wayside," said McCray, a union representative for Maryland electricians. "It is our duty to help bring up the next generations."
While McCray isn't seeking one of the grants, he represents another aspect of BMe's objective. Rodney Foxworth, community engagement manager for BMe, said the goal is to build collaborations among black men and cultivate grass-roots solutions to community problems. The grants are intended to reward those men who are serving their neighbors.
Video testimonials — which should be two to three minutes long and can be recorded on a smartphone — should be submitted by small groups of men and teens 14 and older, including a lead applicant who is at least 18 years old, Foxworth said. The work the groups perform can be wide-ranging, such as an urban farming initiative that combines ex-offender training, a collaboration between black restaurateurs for joint purchases or youth-based programs that support the arts or athletics.
"The primary purpose is to recognize and celebrate African-American males as assets to the community," Foxworth said. "I want to see black men be able to mobilize and feel empowered, to come together to make things happen in Baltimore. Black men are doing great things every single day, but often we feel like we're working in isolation."
Depending on the initiative's success, Foxworth said it could become an annual offering. The initiative drew more than 2,000 men last year in Detroit and Philadelphia when applications were accepted in those cities.
Foxworth said the application process is designed to be easy. The videos should be uploaded to http://www.BMeCommunity.org and submitted along with a brief questionnaire and a rough budget. Nominations also are accepted through the website, he said. Winners will be announced in the spring.
Trabian Shorters, vice president of communities for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, said the initiative is intended to give community-engaged individuals a boost to further their work.
"What's more important is recognizing that there are thousands of men in Baltimore who are willing to do more than their fair share," Shorters said. "We have a chance to recognize them and acknowledge what they bring to the city.
"They have something that our money could never buy. They have the relationships, the trust and their relationship have earned them respect."
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