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Get Lifted

The Campaign for Black Male Achievement is changing the lives of black men and boys

CEO Shawn Dove is connecting leaders across the country for a bigger purpose

On Dec. 1, young men and women filed into View Pointe Hall on the sixth floor of the Muhammad Ali Center in the heart of a bustling, downtown Louisville, Kentucky. Upon entering the 6,700-square-foot room where its floor-to-ceiling windows provide a beautiful view of the Ohio River, participants, affectionately called “Rumblers,” retrieved their bags, name badges and affirmation cards. Round tables were spread across the length of the room while a boxing ring-style podium, complete with red, white and blue ropes and a boxing bell, sat dead center as the focal point.

It was the start of the sixth annual Rumble Young Man, Rumble — an event held by the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA), an organization that works to improve the lives of black young men and boys. For two days, participants sat through hourlong discussions led by guest speakers who covered topics such as education, health and well-being, mentoring, fatherhood and capacity-building.

Shawn Dove stood in the center of the ring-style podium to greet the 160 “Rumblers,” offering them uplifting advice and affirmations to carry throughout the course of the event. As chief executive officer of the CBMA, Dove has been an integral part of the event since its inception, watching it grow and flourish just like its participants throughout the years.

By the end of the event’s last day, Dove was exhausted, yet exhilarated. Tired, yet grateful. To think, less than 10 years ago, Dove approached his CBMA role with apprehension.

In fact, he questioned his calling.

There were many movements geared toward the betterment of black lives, and hundreds of educators, volunteers, activists and community leaders around the nation were pounding the pavement, volunteering and donating time and money to invest in the lives of black men and boys. In 2008, the Open Society Foundations — an organization that works to build tolerant societies, help shape public policies and implement various initiatives — made a step to dedicate its time, resources and $10 million to CBMA, which would provide a safe space and resources for black men and boys across the country.

Before CBMA, Dove served as the director of youth ministries for First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey, New York vice president of MENTOR National Mentoring Partnership and founded a newspaper designed for and celebrating black fatherhood. But when Dove was offered a position to manage the organization, he doubted himself.

“I quickly realized that it wasn’t just a position, it was a divine assignment,” Dove said. “But before I realized it was a divine assignment, there was a voice in my head that said, ‘Who do you think you are to lead a national campaign for black male achievement? You’re not too far removed from the issues and stuff that you’re trying to change in this nation.’ It took me about five months to reconcile that I was hired for a reason and to play to my strength. I had never been in philanthropy and I just went about this — what I do naturally is build community.”

The Campaign

In 2009, a year into his tenure, Dove still believed that philanthropy wasn’t his true path. “I felt like a fish out of water,” he said. After attending a retreat hosted by the Association of Black Foundation Executives and Bay Area Blacks in Philanthropy, Dove’s mind-set changed into one that was more positive and productive. The theme of the event, Dove said, was self-care.

“During that retreat, I found my vocational voice,” Dove said. “It was at that moment that I knew I needed to step into this leadership role and lead in a way that I’ve never led before, trust my instincts, trust God more and I’ve had a lot of support. I realized that the country didn’t need a campaign for black male achievement, what we needed really was a corporation for black male achievement, an endowed, philanthropic enterprise to lean into this issue for the long haul.”

In 2015, CBMA became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with Dove as its CEO. Today, CBMA’s network has grown to include more than 5,000 leaders and 3,000 organizations and programs throughout the nation that invest in black men and boys. According to a CBMA study titled Quantifying Hope, philanthropic efforts to support black men and boys are rising in the United States. In 2012, $64,634,022 in grants were specifically allocated for black men and boys. Thirty-one percent of the grant money went toward education, while 30 percent was put toward human services and 29 percent toward public affairs. Smaller amounts were designated for health, arts and agriculture and other areas.

As the organization grows, so do the dreams and hopes for a better future and focus on black men and boys in America.

“Black men and boys in America don’t need saviors, we need believers,” Dove said. “We need people that believe who we are, believe in our potential, believe in our assets and believe in our ability to build and to battle for our community. One of the mission mantras for CBMA is that there’s no cavalry coming to save the day in our communities. We are the iconic leaders that we have been waiting for, the curators of the change we’re seeking to see.”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.