Trabian Shorters

Ashoka Fellow
United States, North America
Fellow Since 2015
My work: Building prosperous communities inspired by Black men.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Trabian Shorters was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2015.
The New Idea
Through BMe, Trabian seeks to reawaken empathy and build community across race and gender groups by presenting black men as the community-builders that they are. As Trabian puts it, black men are perhaps the only ethnic group that have no pro-social stereotype, and this perception has a range of perverse effects on how we view and engage with them. The negative story of the ‘black male threat’ dominates – even among well-intentioned efforts to benefit the black community – despite countless positive contributions black men are making in their communities and beyond each day. Black men serve their country in uniform, support causes, and have been increasing their entrepreneurship at higher rates than all other men but patriotic, generous and enterprising is not how we think of them. The recent high-profile shootings of unarmed black men by authorities are perhaps the most poignant reminder of the urgent need to change course, but their aftermath is also an opportunity because periods of instability are often the ripest for large-scale change.
The idea comes down to three parts: sharing the asset-based narrative about black men’s roles in America as builders, supporting the central characters in that narrative (BMe Leaders) and connecting them within a powerful influencer network (BMe Champions), and doing so in constant partnership with media to amplify the message. What is new and different is both the narrative itself and the entrepreneurial strategy he has designed to give that narrative legs. Other efforts in the field of ‘black male achievement’ are still rooted in the crisis/threat narrative with language of ‘vicious cycles’ and missions to help young black men ‘follow the rules’ and ‘stay on track’. Such language actually reinforces the bias against black males and the perspective that black males need to be neutralized rather than maximized. In contrast the mission statement of BMe is to build caring and prosperous communities inspired by black men. Within this statement is not just a more positive framing but one that acknowledges black men as peers with the same values and goals as the rest of us, and who we can work with and learn from in service of those goals.
BMe then works to connect people who affirm its values, work on a range of issues and affirm the positive role of black men in society. Trabian likens the connecting to building what Martin Luther King Jr referred to as “The Beloved Community” wherein all people are challenged and engaged to be their better selves. At the cornerstone are BMe Leaders (black men changemakers who BMe highlights and supports) and BMe Champions (influencers of all races and genders within philanthropy, business, media, academia, and more) who care about the same range of causes and are given opportunities to build relationships and support one another. The personal relationships formed become a foundation for institutional change. This network becomes an engine for new kinds of experiences wherein black men and boys are active catalysts for an America that values all of its people.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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