Sheldon Smith: Inspired to Create a Program for Young, Black Fathers - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise magazine Fall 2019 issue

BE Modern Man: Sheldon Smith

Nonprofit leader; 30; Founder and Executive Director, The Dovetail Project

Twitter: @TheSheldonBrand; Instagram: @thesheldonbrand

My organization, The Dovetail Project, gives young black, fathers ages 17-24 the skills and support they need to be better fathers for their children and better men in their communities. Our work improves the overall wellness and health of each student by giving young men the resources and knowledge that aren’t readily available in their communities or in any one location anywhere in Chicago. By doing this, we are helping to alleviate the stress, doubt, and depression that many young fathers face not understanding their roles, rights, and responsibilities of being a parent. So far, 431 young dads [have graduated] from our program.

WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF IN LIFE?

I am most proud of being an excellent husband, a strong and present father, and for being a member of the community who is looking to change the world and trajectory for young fathers and their children.

HOW HAVE YOU TURNED STRUGGLE INTO SUCCESS?

I grew up in a poor neighborhood with my father being a sporadic presence in my life. By the age of 17, I received a felony for armed robbery. At the age of 20, I dropped out of college and became a father. All of that motivated me to start the Dovetail Project to help young fathers, and to make sure children had better relationships with their fathers and better opportunities for their lives.

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

Jay-Z! He grew up in the Marcy projects, struggled with his relationship with his father, and was in the streets. Through all of that, he saw a bigger vision for his life and is a huge success in all aspects of his life — as a businessman, husband, father, and family man. How could you not be motivated by a man who started at the bottom and became a billionaire before turning 50?

HOW DO YOU DEFINE MANHOOD?

Manhood is having great character and integrity and by being a man of your word through your actions. I believe men should be leaders and challengers and make investments in others.

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

Failure is the most important route to success.

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

Despite all of the roadblocks and barriers I faced, I was able to organically create an organization to solve the problem of absentee fathers. My father had me at 18 and I was 20 when I had my daughter, so being able to help young fathers ages 17 to 24, who have been impacted by their fathers in negative ways, is how I am paying it forward.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT BEING A BLACK MAN?

Unfortunately, many black men come into the world as underdogs, but through it all we find a way to persevere and succeed in amazing ways. We then take what we learned and use it to mentor and empower the next generation.

WHAT PRACTICES, TOOLS, BOOKS, ETC. DO YOU RELY ON FOR YOUR SUCCESS?

Prayer. I pray every day, all day. There is no way you can do this work or any work or face day-to-day challenges without having a spiritual component to ground you and keep you focused.

I have a great cabinet of successful mentors from various industries, ages, and life circumstances. I try to meet with them monthly to get varying perspectives on issues I’m facing and to continue my growth. I learn so much from them; that it is my most valuable resource.

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.