Black males re-imagined: Mentoring this generation

OPINION - Imagining new possibilities amid bleak circumstances is a day-to-day experience for black youth...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Close your eyes and think of a physician, judge, or family man. If the image in your mind’s eye is not of a black man, it’s no coincidence. Even in 2010, in the so-called “Age of Obama,” mainstream media still miserably fails to offer diverse portraits of African-American life, especially when it comes to black men.

On December 6th in Harlem, several so-called “media influencers” and others will gather at “Black Male: Re-Imagined,” a town hall and national summit to address the negative perceptions and associations of black men and boys in American society. The summit, hosted by the Open Society Institute, will include a conversation with panelists such as hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, actor Nick Cannon, Rev. “Run” Simons and others.

What are the new iconic possibilities beyond the rapper, athlete, or gangsta personas that pervade both traditional and online media? What role can public figures play in transforming and challenging the misperceptions of black youth and our own self-image?

Questions like these seem to pop up almost perennially at black male conferences around the country these days, and there are never a shortage of answers: confront rampant media bias, develop new, empowering cultural archetypes for black males to aspire to (i.e. the college nerd instead of the rapper), challenge Hollywood to recruit more black writers and directors, and so on.

But in my estimation, none of these potential solutions will ever be sustainable without one thing: youth voices. For it is the voice and transformative vision of young brothers all across America who, despite crumbling schools, poor neighborhoods, and an ever-widening “achievement gap” wake up everyday and do the unexpected: they succeed.

Capturing their stories is the focus of the “2025 Game Changers,” a new national media fellowship program sponsored by the Open Society Institute. Eleven fellows from seven participating cities including Chicago, New Orleans, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Washington, DC, New York, and Oakland, are producing micro-documentaries and interviews about black men overcoming the odds in education, employment, justice, health, and fatherhood. The videos tell of young black men overcoming the violence of Chicago’s mean streets, using hip hop to teach reading and literacy to New Orleans youth, or redefining black self-identity and culture in Philadelphia. Many will be featured on

“As a video-centric news site focused on telling stories that affect and reflect African-American experiences, is proud to partner with the 2025 Game Changers Project and is excited about surfacing many of these compelling videos on our platform,” says David Wilson, Managing Editor of the theGrio, a division of NBC News.

“A critical success lever for the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement is catalyzing a coordinated strategic communications framework that empowers black men and boys to be masters of their own media,” says Shawn Dove, manager of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement. “Investing in the innovative leadership of Cheo Tyehimba and the 2025 Campaign certainly helps us to realize this vision for success.”

The project is an extension of the 2025 Campaign for Black Men and Boys, a national organization that supports advocacy, local community organizing, and public policy efforts to change outcomes for black men and boys. The campaign’s national policy paper, “We Dream a World: The 2025 Vision for Black Men and Boys” will be published this week.

Imagining new possibilities amid bleak circumstances is a day-to-day experience for black youth. Why? They have no attractive alternative. But in order for them to realize their vision we all have to include them in the conversation. When we do that, we will unearth stories about the single fathers who are super heroes for their kids, young activists mentoring black males through the justice system, young professionals and entrepreneurs thriving during the recession, or advocates for mental and physical wellness. These stories are everywhere the media is not looking.

To learn more about the project and to apply online, please visit