Aaron Follins: Giving An Ovation In Celebration of Men of Color - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

BE Modern Man: Aaron Follins

Communications leader, author; 36; Creator, Ovation: A Celebration of H.I.M. (Healthy Images of Manhood)

Twitter: @aaronfollins; Instagram: @aaronfollins

My passion project is Ovation: A Celebration of H.I.M. (Healthy Images of Manhood.) In 2016, I created a space where annually we spotlight a dozen men of color from around the country who are not only successful in their careers but pursue philanthropy in their communities. Since its inception, we’ve been able to honor entrepreneurs, magazine editors, LGBTQ activists, youth sports coaches, and Fortune 500 executives. Even though the event is a one-night awards program, I can tell that relationships are built, lives are changed, and partnerships are formed as evidenced by the feedback I receive from participants and attendees.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?

At the risk of sounding redundant, my Ovation project is what I’m most proud of. With every honoree, we are changing the narrative of first, how we as men of African descent living in these, the United States, see ourselves and secondly how others see us.

HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?

I’ve been able to turn struggle into success by respecting the God in me. I’m keenly aware of my shortcomings and inadequacies but I also understand that I wasn’t created to struggle. That realization gave me the needed drive to bring some of my ideas to reality. After not getting a high-profile contract I pursued and after being overlooked for a television opportunity I thought I couldn’t live without, I decided to create my own opportunity. It was then that I self-published my first book, My Type of Party: A Year Long Guide to Home Entertaining, I revamped my pop culture website, EssentialLyfe.com and this year I’ll be creating and producing original on-air content that engages, enlightens, and entertains.

WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?

Rev. Charles T. Smith. Decades before we knew what a megachurch was, Rev. Smith encouraged economic growth by empowering his parishioners to own businesses, and he charted a credit union for our members to learn how to save their earnings. Each year every graduating senior in the church was given an opportunity to be awarded over $50,000 in scholarships. Every summer as youth we got to intern at some of the top companies in the city and were paid a salary at the church’s expense. After Hurricane Katrina, the church gym became a shelter to those in need. I could go on and on but what Rev. Smith taught me was to be of service. That’s something we can all do, independent of titles, education, and class.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?

Although she wasn’t speaking directly to me, I once heard Oprah say, “Let excellence be your brand. When you are excellent, you are unforgettable.”

HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?

By making sure my 11-year-old nephew is in attendance at every Ovation event, witnessing black excellence. See questions 1 & 2.

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?

Ironically, the first thing that comes to mind is something that is not unique to one sex: Love. Without conditions. For years we’ve been conditioned to think that manhood is a way of looking or behavior. I’m glad some of us have evolved to understanding that knowing how to change a tire and wearing a pair of Timbs does not a man make. I don’t think you’ve achieved manhood until you can love yourself, love those around you, and love those who you don’t even know. Once you’ve mastered loving yourself, no one must force you to take care of what’s yours and what’s around you.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?

The innate swagger that we possess as black men. There’s a confident gait, a revered language that only we speak. It’s in all black men no matter the age, economic, educational or sexual background. We pay a high price for that.


BE Modern Man is an online and social media campaign designed to celebrate black men making valuable contributions in every profession, industry, community, and area of endeavor. Each year, we solicit nominations in order to select men of color for inclusion in the 100 Black Enterprise Modern Men of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize men who epitomize the BEMM credo “Extraordinary is our normal” in their day-to-day lives, presenting authentic examples of the typical black man rarely seen in mainstream media. The BE Modern Men of Distinction are celebrated annually at Black Men XCEL (www.blackenterprise.com/blackmenxcel/). Click this link to submit a nomination for BE Modern Man: https://www.blackenterprise.com/nominate/. Follow BE Modern Man on Twitter: @bemodernman and Instagram: @be_modernman.