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 LAWRENCE E. ADJAH
Profession: Entrepreneur, Business Adviser, and Pastor
One Word That Describes You: Polymath
What does being one of the BE Modern Man 100 Honorees mean to you?
It’s encouraging to be recognized as a BE Modern Man. Even though recognition has not been my central pursuit, I’m grateful to be reminded that there are others who appreciate the ways I’ve been fortunate to serve with my life. As someone who loves our people, with intention, it is an honor to be recognized alongside other brothers who have a similar burden for using their gifts, to serve others.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact?”
We are not meant to do life alone, thus, I’ve been burdened by the sleeping giant of our time: loneliness. We’re more digitally connected than we’ve ever been, yet more isolated and disconnected interpersonally than ever before. In a time where many of us are mediating our lives behind a computer screen and are living in cities without strong pre-existing relationships, it is vital for people to have a space where they can build lifelong, life-sustaining relationships. I’ve dedicated my life to building, serving, and advising communities, organizations, and efforts that exist to heal, unite, and transform lives. After years as a management consultant, entrepreneur, and community builder, I’ve been led to a place which sees the solution to this challenge being as much a spiritual matter as it is a civic, social, and technological opportunity.
As such, I honor this mission in three ways: I serve as the founder and chairman of Family Dinner Foundation (Our Family Dinner, ourfamilydinner.org) whose mission has been to connect the world as a family over the dinner table. We want to serve as an encouraging model of what doing life in community could be through the tradition of dinner—Our Family Dinner steps into that need and equips hosts around the world to open their hearts, hands, and homes to welcome, know, and care for people like you and me. I serve as a Pastor at Renaissance Church in Harlem and the Lead Pastor and Church Planter for a new church coming to Jersey City, New Jersey, in fall of 2020. At the heart of the great redemptive love story is God redeeming and reconciling our broken relationship with Him and inviting us to do that with one another. I also serve as an adviser to a number of organizations and institutions, across all sectors, whose purpose and products aim to bring people together.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support black male achievement now or in the future?
It is my heart and hope to be a part of training up the next generation of men who love God, His word and His family, faithfully and fearlessly at home and in the public square. It’s difficult for black males (or anyone) to achieve and sustain said achievement, if they are not emotionally or spiritually healthy. We’re losing our brothers left and right and it can seem that the solution is only downstream, but I believe through efforts of making spaces for black men to serve, be known, and cared for (Family Dinner Foundation) and for them to be sharpened (gospel-centered ministry), we will open the door to more sustainable achievement. Research shows as men age, they tend to isolate and if they do maintain relationships, they tend to only nurture functional relationships tied to their career, which hurts us now and will hurt us even more later in life.
I also believe in and support the work of a number of organizations that focus on black male achievement explicitly and implicitly, through the innovative work of organizations like Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. (member) and its Kappa League, or New City Kids, a national organization where many of the students they serve are young black males.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
I entered college as the reigning national pentathlon champion in track and field and immediately began training for the decathlon with the goal of making the 2004 Olympics. I prayed for this opportunity and saw my athletic gifts as my way of God speaking through me about his power, grace, and glory to the world. Unfortunately, a career-curtailing injury coupled with losing one of my childhood friends, and the depth of disappointment and loneliness I experienced as a result, revealed to me that something was missing in my walk—others. To that point, my relationship with God was largely a private one. I had a number of close friends, but I didn’t speak to them about my intimate conversations with God. I didn’t have a strong conviction about needing to speak to others about what He was revealing to me. In that He revealed the importance having people along the journey with you, carrying each other’s burdens, and the accountability found in inviting people into that divine dialogue.
Through the experience of losing a friend and perhaps my identity, God worked on me from the Cambridge, Massachusetts, dorm room to the Palo Alto, California, common room that housed the first men’s bible study I joined during business school nearly eight years later. Furthermore, as I grew spiritually, in knowledge and understanding of who God was, I saw Him in everything, particularly in what I was discerning to be the call on my life; as such, it became even harder to compartmentalize Him.
I started to see my work in community building from hosting family dinners, organizing, and leading student and alumni groups, spearheading university and citywide dialogues on issues, my sensitivity to division, isolation, and loneliness as a divine deposit from God intended to guide me in my service to the body of Christ. I led the first major fundraising initiative for Family Dinner Foundation, Inc., in June (2016), where we established a GoFundMe campaign that resulted in raising $52,000 in 11 days to ensure we could continue the work of our mission. To that point, we were operating on a largely self-funded shoestring budget and could no longer sustain our work in a financially sustainable way.
Photo Credit: Siria Alvarez
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Grace. All great relationships run on grace. Grace is unearned and unmerited favor, where there is an abundant reservoir of humility, forgiveness, and intentionality, rooted in a commitment to the person, not conditional relational performance. We have enough to struggle through in life, thus people need to feel secure that the people in their lives are committed to them as people, not by their utility.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
Family Dinner Foundation is launching Our Family Dinner Groups this fall. Our Family Dinner groups meet at a brother or sister’s home, which is distinct from our Citywide Our Family Dinners, which meet in restaurants and large community spaces. Every group is designed to create an environment where brothers and sisters feel welcome, known, and cared for like a loving family member. They will meet bi-weekly on Saturday or Sundays for six to eight weeks in a season. If you’re interested in hosting and attending in your city, visit our website to learn more.
Finding Friendship in Adulthood – Through workshops, I’ve been helping (young) adults be more intentional about maintaining lifelong, life-sustaining relationships in their adulthood. I’ve been speaking on this topic at conferences around the country and national podcasts.
What is the best advice you ever received?
“Put in the Big Rocks first.” Don’t confuse the pebbles and sand with the “Big Rocks” in life because once your buckets are full, you’re done, you can’t get bigger buckets. While all is possible, it’s wise to figure out the “Big Rocks” in your life, whether it’s starting a family, or spending consistent time with loved ones, prioritize them before the others.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Take stock of your gifts, your burdens, and your interactions as paths to making a real difference in the world. Evaluate your gifts because they represent unique abilities given to you to help others. Evaluate your burdens because they are issues that trouble you where you want to see change and are willing to endure for them. And lastly, evaluate your interpersonal interactions because those represent people and places where you are divinely placed to have lasting impact.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I spend time in advance clarifying the purpose and hope for the meeting so as to ensure it is constructive. I spend time in prayer, not only for what I hope to achieve but for our time to be one that’s mutually encouraging, where we leave with greater trust and a strengthened relationship (business aside).
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
I am a fan of staycations and mini getaways, still, who doesn’t love a great vacation?! I tend to be on the “I can stay in my hotel room and relax all day” spectrum of vacationing. I don’t need a huge itinerary, simply the three things I have to see, then everything else is unstructured time. If there is a nice place for me to run/work out, eat, and kick back, I am on cloud nine. Every few months, I take a staycation to a hotel in a remote part of New Jersey (yes, there are remote parts), I check in Friday and leave Monday, with groceries, books, and comfortable clothes in tow.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would love to do a yearlong tour of home, Mother Africa, starting in my home, Nigeria, and going to every major city in West Africa, then traveling north, east and then south, through Nairobi, Kenya, concluding in Cape Town, South Africa. I would go home because I want to maintain an active relationship with the place and people who, beyond my blood and familial connection, have been the epicenter of culture, faith, and tradition around the world. Also, I would love to have extended time in Nigeria to round out completing our interactive family tree, replete with recorded video and conversations with living family members for generations to come.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Thank you again for this wonderful honor. I’m grateful.
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @BEModernMan and join the conversation using #BEModernMan.
Come celebrate the BE Modern Man 100 Men of Distinction at the 2nd Annual Black Men XCEL, Aug. 29–Sept. 2, 2018, at PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.