Robert Williams

Good day readers – every day we are allowed to open our eyes is a blessed day.

I personally thank my creator, God the Father. One truly never really knows from day-to-day when an unexpected event may take our lives. We live in a world of turmoil and chaos, not to mention a homeless epidemic.

On May 20, shots were fired outside of the White House on 17th Street NW between E and F Streets. I was there, with approximately 100 young Black men from the national organization Black Male Engagement (BMe). Group members had traveled here from various states to be honored at the White House. Before this could even begin, their visit was disrupted by gunfire.

Several Secret Service officers ran towards us and instructed us to run back beyond F Street because shots had been fired. Later I learned that a man had brandished a gun at one of the White House checkpoints at E Street NW, half a block from our location. Despite warnings from Secret Service officers, he had continued his approach with the gun in plain site. The officers had no choice but to shoot and wound him. Those were the shots we had heard. Did they prevent the BMe members from being honored by the Commander in Chief that day? There was no mention of BMe or these more than 100 young Black men in the numerous news reports following the incident. Could this have been the goal of the disruption? Readers, please let me know if you find any other mention of this BMe visit in the context of that incident.

(Perception or reality?)

Black Male Engagement is about real men sharing real stories of community change. The organization seeks to acknowledge the coaches, fathers, businessmen and brothers who do more than their fair share to help others and make our communities stronger.There is a growing number of Black men who make a difference each and every day, although they don’t tabulate their contributions in an official or unofficial document. From speaking directly with some of BMe’s members that day, this writer perceives it is done from the heart and out of the necessity to inspire other Black Americans, particularly Black youth.

As far as I can see, this organization upholds the community values President Obama highlighted in his 2012 re-election speech: “This country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and future generations.”

There are positive forces at work within our race, as there have always been. Although, for the most part, that fact has largely been withheld from history (“his – story”). It is unfair to identify Black men solely by their challenges, especially without acknowledging their contributions. Positive organizations like BMe work to inform the public and dispel negative myths, profiles and stereotypes about us. Just as Street Sense desires to share, inspire, connect and empower people, BMe works to improve access to information and opportunities to empower yourself and

others. Those empowered this way go on to be the strength of their community and constantly build upon that strength.

BMe operates in Baltimore, Detroit and Philly thanks to the support of The Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundation’s campaign for Black Male Achievement. They plan to expand to more cities next year.

Though BMe is built around the acknowledgment of the positive contributions of Black men, you do not have to be a Black man to participate. Anyone can name a brother they know is deserving of recognition (we are all Brothers and Sisters in the eyes of the Creator and humanity – it’s not a race issue).

Former winners of BMe leadership awards include a teacher, a Vietnam War veteran, a formerly convicted activist, a Ph.D, an entrepreneur and others. The project centers around three simple principles: recognize; reinforce; reward. Founder Trabian Shorters summed it up in a 2012 Knight Foundation blog post:

“In your city, there are thousands of great Black men who inspire by being themselves. We are creating an easier way for you to get to know them and for them to get to know each other because, as our newly re-elected president said last week: ‘The role of [a] citizen in our democracy does not end with your vote. America has never been about what can be done for us. It’s about what can be done by us, together.”

Despite various opinions and antics during this election season, it is imperative that you vote. Trust me, it does count.

To get involved in BMe or name a brother, visit Robert Williams is a vendor of Street Sense and a frequent writer who focuses on the treatment of people with unstable housing, especially veterans, in his column Perception or Reality.