BE Modern Man: Jonathon Romain
Fine artist, master framer, art gallery owner, photographer, speaker; 53; Co-Founder/Director of Development, Artists ReEnvisioning Tomorrow, Inc.
My wife and I recently purchased a 50-thousand-square-feet school building that we have turned into a community art and cultural center. Our objective is to have a fun, creative, and safe space for our young people. Along with art programs, we will offer a variety of STEM projects in partnership with Illinois State University’s Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology (CeMAST).
We recently won the State Farm Neighborhood Assist Grant. It’s a national competition among 2,000 applicants that ultimately garnered over 4.5 million votes from the community. In addition to that, we were awarded a half-million-dollar capital fund grant and raised another $350,000, all in just north of one year.
I’m happy to say that we just completed our first summer camp that consisted of filmmaking, drama, dance, coding and visual arts.
WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?
The thing I’m most proud of is having the opportunity to reach so many young people and share with them my testimony in hopes of making a difference in their lives, as both a fine artist and a leader in my community.
HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?
Two weeks after graduating from college, I was sentenced to 15 years in prison for selling drugs. I served seven-and-a-half-years of that sentence. Instead of allowing it to define me, I completely turned my life around. As a fine artist, I’ve spent the last two decades trying to build my community through the art that I create and the lives I impact through lectures, workshops and now, a community art center.
WHO WAS YOUR GREATEST MALE ROLE MODEL AND WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM HIM?
My stepfather was my greatest role model. I learned that you had to work hard every day and you had to educate yourself. He shared with me over and over again that his life would have been so much better had he just went to school.
He was uneducated, but he was a hard worker, and he worked until the day he died.
WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
The best advice I was ever given happened when I was 14-years-old. I was at a party with older cousins while visiting out of town. I was afraid to talk to anyone because I was so young. My cousin recognized my trepidation and said, simply, “After next week, you won’t see these people again, so what difference does it matter what you say?”
He erased all of my fears in that one statement. From that day on, I never feared to go after what I wanted. I stopped caring about what people thought and moved on whatever agenda I had.
HOW ARE YOU PAYING IT FORWARD TO SUPPORT OTHER BLACK MALES?
I have spoken to young black men from colleges to prisons all over the country and would like to think that my words have been just what some of them have needed at that moment.
My wife and I have committed our lives to making a difference in our community as well.
HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?
Manhood is accepting full responsibility for your actions, assessing your situation as realistically as possible, and manifesting your destiny with every fiber of your being. Start with what you have, right here, right now, and build from that.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?
I love our swagger!
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.