“It’s our normal to be extraordinary.”
This is the tagline for our BE Modern Man campaign, recently launched at BlackEnterprise.com. With enthusiastic response in social media and on our website, as well as from audiences at our live events, including the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit in Atlanta, BE Modern Man is building momentum toward its purpose of reclaiming the dialogue about the power, passion, promise, and contributions of black men. It is a platform for us to speak truthfully for and about ourselves, instead of being defined (or as likely, dismissed) by others.
For me, BE Modern Man is further evidence that while styles and culture may change, values and standards remain timeless. When I read the profiles, view the images, and hear the viewpoints of the young men we spotlight, I see a 21st century take on the priorities, goals, and determination to make a difference I shared with my peers when I launched Black Enterprise as a 35-year-old “modern” man in 1970.
I invite you to flip (or scroll via Google Books on the Internet) through the pages of Black Enterprise from our first decade in print. Look at the photos of the black male professionals, executives, and entrepreneurs from every field of endeavor. More importantly, read what they had to say about their goals, values, and expectations of themselves and their futures. True, hairstyles and fashions have changed (perhaps not as much as you might think). However, the commitment to achieve, excel, and make positive change, in the face of a tidal wave of negative imagery about black men, was the same as it is for the BE Modern Man of today.
Then, as now, black men faced significant obstacles to our hopes and ambitions. Then, as now, the BE Modern Man achieved, in large part because achievement is what he expected of himself, regardless of his circumstances and the external environment at any given moment.
That expectation to achieve in the face of adversity is the all-important golden thread through the tapestry of African Americans across the decades, and key to the continued progress and success of black males. It’s why, above the rhetoric of negativity about black men, we continue to support and be encouraged by efforts to incentivize, reward, and honor black male achievement, ranging from the work of the 100 Black Men of America to education initiatives such as the Eagle Academy Foundation and grassroots efforts such as BMe Community, and many others both celebrated and unsung.
The wisdom of legendary Morehouse College President, the late Benjamin E. Mays, Ph.D., continues to ring loud and true: “Not failure, but low aim is sin.” If the wages of sin is death, then there are few sins more deadly to black males, and to the progress of all black people, than low ambition.
BE Modern Man is a powerful reminder, designed for the digital age, that we continue to set the bar high, knowing that our salvation lies in never lowering that standard or surrendering our dreams and ambitions. More importantly, as a digital campaign easily shared via social media, it is perfectly positioned to reach those black males who are otherwise isolated from these values, trapped by unemployment, crime, and inadequate education. The images and stories of those featured in be Modern Man can provide the vision and hope to inspire others to pull themselves up from the quicksand of hopelessness and negative expectations.
Expectations shape perception, and perception shapes outcomes. This is why we must never lower our expectations of black men or abandon the standards and values that remain key to our continued advancement and achievement. Because extraordinary has always been our normal.
Earl G. Graves Sr. is the Founder and Publisher of Black Enterprise.