Imagine, for a moment, that each time you walked down the street, you did so with the knowledge that many passersby judge your character based solely on your race and gender.
This is the kind of empathy that Shawn Dove, chief executive officer of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, hopes to instill in his Chautauqua Institution audience.
Dove will give a lecture titled “Quantifying Hope for Black Men and Boys,” at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy.
“We need to change our language in this country, and our perspective,” Dove said. “Starting with [the understanding that] there is nothing wrong with black men and boys in America. We are assets, and we have always been assets to this nation.”
The Campaign for Black Male Achievement is a branch of the Open Society Foundations that has worked to end the systemic exclusion of black men and boys from mainstream American society since 2008.
“People have a problem with hearing ‘black male’ and ‘achievement’ in the same sentence,” Dove said.
“They cannot get their heads around that, because we have just been conditioned with a deficient mindset and language. It’s not about disconnected dads, and it’s not about marginalized men. It’s about the achievement and opportunities and the assets of our black men and boys in America.”
This achievement would remove race as a determining factor in a person’s success.
“Success [for the CMBA] would be a black mother and father waking up and having a sense that their black son has an equal opportunity for success and to realize their potential in this country because of organizations like CBMA that have worked to even the playing field when it comes to policies, when it comes to strategic progress, and when it comes to dismantling the structural and institutional racism that disproportionately holds back black men and boys,” Dove said.
While the CBMA’s work is focused on black men and boys, the solution cannot be, Dove said.
“Until we foster and create cross-cultural, multi-racial collaborations and partnerships, we will effectively defuse hope,” he said. “Not only hope for black men and boys, but for the nation as a whole. Our fate is entwined.”
This hope, Dove said, has to be fostered in communities before it can be imbued in individuals.
“If there’s no hope in our communities, and there’s no hope in our families, how can we hope to have hope in the hearts and minds of our black men and boys?” he said.
Dove said the necessity of community involvement can be seen in his own background: He was raised by a single mother and became involved in street life before he was “saved” by a youth organization, Development of Opportunities through Meaningful Education.
“I am the embodiment of black male achievement,” Dove said. “Not so much because of my successes in life, but more so because of the things I have overcome and bounced back from and the beloved community of people who have helped me do that.”
This kind of community involvement has led Dove to see progress across the country.
“We didn’t get here overnight,” he said. “This is a centuries-long fight in reversing the centuries-long embedded ideology in this country. But I travel the nation and see progress and impact in cities across the country. If we are going to win, is going to require an ‘all hands on deck’ mentality and action. There is a role and a place for everyone whether you’re a woman, or white. I would want people after my lecture to say and feel that they are inspired to tap into their unique, God-given gifts to help move this movement further.”