From a constant news cycle revealing more and more Black people killed by police officers, to the global outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 and the first months of this year have been tough for minority communities.
Last year set an unprecedented tone; it especially plagued daily problems in Black America and Black men were faced with an even heavier burden.
Kareem Jackson, known for his Rap career as Tef Poe and his social justice work, has founded “Black Men Build,” a group for Black men interested in community organizing and positive social change for the next generation.
“I created the organization to show how Black men can be effective in something bigger than our own personal platforms,” Poe said.
“We’re in an era where it's time to set a historical precedent for the next generation, where they can look back and say what they did, [and] what they tried to do.”
BMB may still be in its infancy, but it's already making a local impact.
It began with a quarterly publication called ‘Wartime’, which is distributed nationally. The first issue was a COVID-19 survival guide that discussed coronavirus, debunked myths concerning COVID-19 and African Americans and how to prevent its spread. The May issue will be available soon.
“COVID-19 was an opportunity for us to find a creative way to talk to Black people about a very serious health crisis,” Poe said. “We used the first issue to do that, and then it spawned three other issues.”
In addition to the magazine, the collective has also performed philanthropic services, including an initiative for protecting Black voters at the polls during the November 2020 election.
Poe’s group also partnered with fashion designer Brandin Vaughn to donate 200 coats, free diapers and 200 meals to families in need. BMB members have also cleaned blocks of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Kingshighway.
“The reason stuff like that has been so impactful is because people wanna see Black men on the move and they wanna see us organizing,” Poe said.
“It makes Black folks feel good to see brothers doing that —- even being invited into spaces where we typically don’t always feel welcomed.”
Along with St. Louis, BMB is active in Miami, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Houston, Atlanta, and New Orleans. Poe says it is imperative for the organization to be active and have organizers outside St. Louis, because issues he and other Black men face aren’t localized.
“It doesn't matter where I go on planet Earth, I'm still a Black man and I’m still a descendant of somebody who was in chains at some point,” Poe said.
“It was really important for us to expand because all too often St. Louis has been excluded from the national conversation.”
Corey Wright, whose artist’s name is “Corey Black,” is an acclaimed spoken word artist and serves as BMB’s lead field organizer.
“This is my first time having a position like this; it put me in a place where people trust me to do the job and it has given me the tools I need to do well at executing every other role and task I’m involved with,” Black said.
Black said he knew as early as 18 that he’d work to improve the state of the community. He’s thrilled his role in BMB allows him the room to grow and help other Black men elevate.
“A lot of organizations lack the ability to connect with the streets,” Black said.
“I’m able to reach Black men in various walks of life because of my background; I grew up in church, was raised on the west side and went to school in Maryland Heights because of the desegregation program.”
BMB hosts monthlymass calls inviting people to join the conversation and learn more about the organization and they have drawn up to 700 people on the line. Actor Jesse Williams has joined the call too.
Poe said while BMB’s mission is for Black men, anyone can join especially Black women.
“Our organization encompasses spirituality, entrepreneurship, knowing your rights, mental health programming and arts programming, ”Poe said.
“It is a space for Black men who wanna be in the community,” he adds “We don’t exclude anyone or turn down anyone, we welcome women in these doors every day.”
Learn more about Black Men Build, here: www.blackmen.build.