Name: Wayne A. Francis
Profession: Chief Operating Officer, Legal Services NYC
One Word That Describes You: Servant/Leader
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
This honor means that with the support of the numerous nominations coming from my network, who have witnessed my testimony up close and personal, I am able to be recognized on a national and international level by BE for the contributions I have made to uplift people and communities of color throughout the diaspora.
What are you doing as a BEMM to help support Black male achievement now or in the future?
I’m the chairperson for the Sigma Beta Club Youth Mentoring Program, an auxiliary group of the Brooklyn chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. We work with almost 20 boys ages 10-17 on a variety of manhood development matters. Being an organization of college educated men, each year our chapter gives out up to $10,000 to several boys as college scholarships.
In my professional life, I’ve always been in the “helping field,” where the majority of jobs I’ve held have been in the nonprofit sector. Most recently I ran a workforce development social enterprise that assists individuals reentering from state and local prisons and jails with transitional employment. The particular population targeted was those who are at the highest risk of recidivating and were released within the prior six months. Prior to that I ran a variety of youth development, community development, and diversity hiring initiatives geared toward helping marginalized and disenfranchised men and boys (as well as women). My current role is a COO for an organization that serves close to 100,000 low-income New Yorkers each year with the important civil legal services they need to survive.
Lastly, I have a history of doing philanthropic work abroad. I’ve regularly provided scholarships for the L&A Memorial Academy in Accra, Ghana and school/medical supplies and direct funding for special community benefit projects that support indigent children and local businesses throughout Ghana, Nigeria (where I sponsor a maternity clinic), and the Caribbean.
What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?
The most prevalent one for me is during the height of the recession, after a mass layoff where I found myself suddenly jobless after serving six years as a senior manager in HR at an ivy league university in NYC. Like many others out there I found myself on unemployment for the first time in my life where I went from a six-figure salary to $400 a week. From there I had a series of senior-level jobs yet more layoffs at some great organizations, as I was attempting to “reinvent myself.” Then just six months ago I landed my dream job, where I’m now serving as the COO for the largest civil legal services organization in the country. It has given me the right mix of everything that I could have wanted in a role at this stage/age of my life; I’m doing mission-driven work; and I have a wide scope of responsibility being responsible for HR & Diversity, Contracts & Grants Management, IT, Compliance and Facilities Management for a $70 million organization of 500 plus people with over a dozen offices throughout the five boroughs of NYC. That is a long way from the unemployment line a mere seven years ago, so it serves as a testimony of persistence and resilience since I “used that setback as a set up for a comeback!”
How do you ordinarily impact?
I strive to make my four children and everyone around me better each day. I do so in the way that I write, the way that I speak, or the genuine smile on my face when I greet folks. I often go out of my way to show some consideration and support for others and teach my children to do the same. My mantra to them is “a little consideration goes a long way” as I encourage them to be proactive givers, which is a trait that I learned from my own departed father. I take fatherhood very seriously, so much so that I actively mentor quite a few boys and young adults. By “replicating” myself in other young boys and men I encounter in my travels, I feel that I am able to create a residual impact over the long term and internationally.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
That trait of a sense of consideration for others is the one that I espouse the most. something I look for as a way to discern someone’s authenticity when they say they want to be your friend, colleague, partner, etc. There are ways that we “show up” when you have that sense of consideration for others and since “real recognizes real” then I know it when I see it demonstrated from people and I value that beyond their words.
What are some immediate projects you are working on?
I am currently planning an educational/cultural tour of Ghana. This will be my eighth trip there. I’ve been to over 20 other countries around the world, however since my first visit, Ghana has felt like a second home to me. I anticipate a large group of folks who will be making the journey with me this time as I help them to retrace the steps of our ancestors, while also having an opportunity to do some service learning at a local school that I sponsor there.
Through the Sigma Beta Club Youth Mentoring Program, we’re planning a college tour in the Northeast and South for our young people to be able to gain exposure to college life later this fall. Our sister sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc., is co-sponsoring the event along with their youth auxiliary. It promises to be a fun time for all as we leverage our Black Greek Lettered Organizations network to give our youth members a glimpse into our world before it comes time to actually go away.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Always strive to achieve an education, because once you have it, no one can ever take it from you! This was a point that my mother drove home on a regular basis. Through my pursuit of higher education, I discovered how big and expansive the world is and wanted to see more of it so I also set out on a course to visit as many countries as I can in my lifetime, as I view travel as another great form of education. From Dubai to Ethiopia, I’ve had the good fortune to see some amazing things, experience some incredible foods and learned to appreciate various music, languages and cultures that can only be experienced to the fullest by living in the moment.
What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Recognize that your testimony, knowledge, and experience can help to elevate another brother somewhere in the world by paying it forward to him. It may not always look like what you expect or come from where you might think, so that’s why you have to be attentive to seize any moment that you can to do what I call “living in contribution” to others. This especially applies to supporting the generations coming after you—our youth, who are soaking up everything around them from us each and every day. Be sure to give them a piece of you that can help them to be better, just from having known you, by modeling the behavior that we want to see from them.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I often get my thoughts down on paper in advance so that I can organize the information in a way that will help me to be effective and precise when it’s my turn to contribute to the discourse. I also always bring something to write with and on, and often take copious notes throughout the meeting so that I can reference them as needed afterwards.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation?
When with the family, the children are generally dictating whatever we do so that we can create the best possible experience for them. When traveling alone or with a group, I like to go off and have the local experience and not just do touristy things. I believe that doing so creates more of an authentic experience of the culture and people, rather than the polish of the tourism industry that they want you to see.
My best vacation was just last year when I did a 14-day “Gems of West Africa” tour sponsored by African Travel Seminars to Ghana, Togo, and Benin. It afforded me the opportunity to spend time in my favorite country as well as to travel by land to two new countries. While in Benin I visited a community of over 30,000 villagers who have lived out on the water for hundreds of years! Historically, they were fleeing a neighboring tribe that was violently sweeping through the area and taking over other tribes in the region. Rumor has it that the warring tribe feared the water, so the villagers felt that if they fled into the water, then their attackers wouldn’t follow them. So centuries ago, they built a whole community of homes, schools, a place of worship, bed and breakfast, markets, etc. all on stilts coming out of the water, a good 30 minute canoe or motorboat ride from shore. Every family owned three canoes, one for the husband to go fishing, one for the mother to go shopping and tend to chores, and the third for the kids to go to school each day. It was fascinating to see and be a part of something that I otherwise never knew existed.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I was actually born in “Paradise,” on one of a beautiful set of about 800 islands and cays known as Freeport, Bahamas. The Bahamas has some of the most clear and beautiful ocean water you would ever want to see, the people are very hospitable and friendly with a “cute” accent, and the weather is always great. Also because it’s close to the U.S., the economy there is very strong and so it’s one of few Caribbean countries where the value of their currency is equal to that of the U.S. dollar. I like to joke that the reason you don’t find too many Bahamian immigrants in the U.S. or elsewhere is because “who would want to leave paradise to go live someplace less amazing?!”
Anything else you’d like to say?
I have had the good fortune to receive several honors in the past for my professional accomplishments, however I feel particularly honored and blessed to receive this recognition from Black Enterprise. In my young adult days, I was a subscriber to the magazine and always admired fellow black Greek Earl Graves Sr.’s success and vision to create such a powerful instrument for the culture. I couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago as a young subscriber that I would be here today about to grace the (web) pages of BE! I will continue to strive to live up to this honor by living a quality life of contribution, in service to humanity and my community.
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Come celebrate the BE Modern Man 100 Men of Distinction at the first-ever Black Men XCEL Summit, Aug. 30 – Sept. 3, at the PGA National Resort & Spa in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.