BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE Modern Man Brandon Okpalobi
Profession: Founder of Dibia DREAM Inc./ CEO of DIBIA Athletic Development
One Word That Describes You: KING
Twitter: @jefe_dibia , @dibiaathletic, @dibiadream Instagram: @okpalobi @dibiadream @dibiaathletic Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brandonokpalobi https://www.facebook.com/DIBIADREAM/ https://www.facebook.com/DIBIAAthletic/
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
It is extremely humbling to be nominated for this award by my colleagues and family. I am honored to be recognized alongside other great black men who are doing excellent work innovatively to impact the diverse global community. Being a part of this cohort challenges me to serve more, work harder, and to stay the course to make an even greater impact while collaborating with like-minded black men. Too often, the narrative around black men is painted negatively. Thank you Black Enterprise for changing that narrative and highlighting the extraordinary work of what black men do daily.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
Trust: When starting my first business, DIBIA Athletic Development, I learned that it takes time for people to trust a new organization—and especially an organization started by a friend. Although I knew the company’s vision and mission were sound and that there was a definite need for our services, I felt that I had to ‘prove’ it to those around me before they were willing to invest.
Looking back, it was easier to gain community support of Dibia DREAM, my non-profit organization. By the time I founded DREAM, I had garnered the trust of the global community; demonstrating to consumers, supporters, stakeholders, parents, and youth that we will provide unique programs to ensure youth have a chance to win at life.
Work/Life Balance: Well, I still struggle with this, lol. But I will say that reading the book The ONE Thing by Gary Keller has allowed me to focus my efforts more on the single thing that is my overarching goal while eliminating the things that don’t help me achieve that goal. This practice has helped me to focus more and free up some mental space to relax and recharge.
Changing the Narrative: I believe that this is a daily struggle for black men because we are constantly painted in a negative light. We walk around with targets on us and somehow are supposed to overcome and be successful in the end. One way I choose to combat this is to ensure that I am the best person I can be as often as I can be. I make every effort to live a life that is pleasing to God and represents my family well. I know that if I can touch one person a day in a positive way and if that person does the same, then my impact expands indefinitely. Over time the narrative of the black man is re-written.
Youth Gun Violence: We know that lack of physical and social opportunities in schools and communities puts minority children at risk for under-performance, future violence, and criminal behaviors. For four years, my non-profit organization, Dibia DREAM has created promising outcomes for low-income students that are living in this difficult situation. With afterschool and weekend programs designed to combat social issues such as poor access to quality education, low graduation rates, hunger, poverty, and lack of child supervision, I’m proud to say that we have improved the education and quality of life of over 5,000 youth and we are not done yet.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
The most important quality that I look for in a personal or professional relationship is whether the person is God-fearing. Period. I know that I will not get along with everyone; issues will arise for various reasons. However, if we have a fundamental foundation that we can stand on, then we will love each other, treat each other with respect, trust one another, listen first and speak second, and truly work together to find a solution. To me, fearing the Lord is fundamental in relationships. It is the foundation that everything else is built upon.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I am expanding more of DIBIA Athletic Development’s operations to Dallas, New Orleans, and Bermuda through sports training and DIBIA Champions League (basketball league). The focus is to promote excellence through athletics, so we will continue to add new programs that teach life skills through sports. On the non-profit side of things, Dibia DREAM will be expanding from two after-school sites to six. Also, I am excited about the continuation of two initiatives: STEM Saturdays and Carrying DREAMs Home.
STEM Saturdays transforms community centers into “Incubators of Excellence” where we engage the community by exposing youth and their families to STEM-based activities. STEM Saturdays are monthly citywide, family, and community-based academic events where students and parents can attend and learn together.
To combat childhood hunger, DREAM partnered with Hyatt Regency New Orleans to introduce the Carrying DREAMs Home Initiative. Youth enrolled in our DREAM Academy afterschool program are provided “DREAMPaks” at the end of each week to take home. DREAMPaks are refilled each week and include non-perishable foods and healthy snacks to ensure that youth and their families had nourishment through the weekend.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“Never waste the opportunity of youth.”
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
My advice is to read the book The Samson Syndrome, find a partner who will have your back no matter what, discover your passion and become an expert in it, read a book a week, pray about everything, put your family first, and always cherish and protect our black queens!
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
PRAY! Before engaging in a business meeting, luncheon, podcast, interview, or conference call, I pray. In terms of other preparation, I always intend to prepare heavily and conduct extensive research on the topic before a meeting, but honestly, I am best on the fly. I am learning to mix preparation with on-site inspiration to bring the best results out of the meeting or event.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
Finding that work-life balance is beyond tough these days as I’ve gotten extremely busy with work— improving our current programs, joining other projects, and overseeing our expansion efforts. So, Bermuda has been my escape for some time. We do have operations there, but I travel to Bermuda often for vacation. Everyone is extremely friendly, the food is great, the beaches are beautiful, and there’s nothing like rum swizzle!
Each year I travel to Bermuda for Cup Match weekend and truly unwind. “Cup Match, the Wildest, Most Fun Island Party You’ve Never Heard Of.” This is the island’s Emancipation Day, which celebrates the abolition of slavery, and Somer’s Day. There’s a host of events that celebrate the island’s history and I partake in all of them.
No phone, no work, just fun on an island with family, friends, good food and the perfect water floatie. There is a big raft-up party in the ocean and each year my friends and I pick a theme and go all out. The whole experience from the concert, BeachFest, watching the cricket match (Team Somerset) and playing Crown & Anchor, to floating all-day in the ocean for Non-Mariners Race is just amazing.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m particularly interested in visiting Egypt, Bora Bora, Maldives, Australia, and Santorini. If I could live anywhere in the world, I could enjoy life in Bermuda, Jamaica, the British Virgin Islands, or Cayman. My three-year plan is to work extremely hard now and then to move to an island and manage everything remotely.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact”?
One could say that my commitment to developing young people is emblematic of how Dr. King’s notion of the ‘beloved community’ starts with the work we do in building the next generation.
I recognize that systematic issues have plagued the black community for years. So, I am passionate about changing the narrative and building asset spaces for black communities to thrive. Our black men and boys deserve the opportunity to be successful. I was once a lost young boy that was kicked out of a Catholic school in the 2nd grade. After transferring to a creative arts school where they channeled my negative energy into art, I thrived and was no longer a statistic.
So my desire is to create good athletes through DIBIA Athletic Development and to cultivate great stewards of the community with Dibia DREAM. Our afterschool and weekend programs provide activities for youth just like me. We provide youth a safe and constructive space to learn while equipping them with social and emotional life skills. As a young changemaker and community leader, my efforts shed light on today’s youth and the need for community-based organizations committed to engaging and empowering them.
I am a multi-talented entrepreneur who has built a sports and high impact athletic training enterprise at an unprecedented rate and scale. But my crowning community achievement has been in the creation of Dibia DREAM.
Anything else you’d like to say?
We must be the change we want to see in this world. We must stop waiting for someone else to do it or even asking for permission. Black men are made in His image and we should act as the Kings and children of God that we are. I’m reminded of a quote, “Life is filled with opportunities, not entitlements.”
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @BEModernMan and join the conversation using #BEModernMan.