Be the Change

by Valerie Merritt

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” --President Barack Obama

It is hard to believe how quickly my time at the Campaign for Black Male Achievement (CBMA) has passed, and what an incredible journey it has been. My first real foray into the non-profit space as an active participant has been challenging, enlightening, and incredibly rewarding.  

I was excited and intrigued at the prospect of how I could contribute to the work and, ultimately, the success of this unique organization that, for a dozen years, has been working to address some of the most difficult and pressing issues facing the Black community at large and Black males in particular. The school-to-prison pipeline, poor physical, mental and emotional health, lack of jobs, absent family members, gun and police violence: all of these issues are daunting but are particularly heightened when it comes to young Black men and boys. But because of the work, the resilience, and the commitment of CBMA, we were able to seed and support many local and national initiatives. We were able to empower and connect local leaders and organizations to share knowledge, resources, and best practices to strengthen the field of Black Male Achievement. 

I am glad that for the past two years, I got the chance to be a part of solutions, and witness first-hand the kind of dedication, fearlessness, and relentless determination that fuels my hope for the future and my belief that change is not only possible, but inevitable.  

I have had the privilege to be involved up close and personal to see what it takes to do this work. To our amazing, dedicated CEO Shawn Dove, whose vision and leadership, have inspired and guided CBMA from its inception with one goal in mind—making a positive change in the lives of young Black men and boys, I thank you. To an incredibly diverse and talented Board of Directors, who’s expertise and commitment to responsible ethical oversight, has been invaluable, I thank you. To our staff, consultants, partners, members, and benefactors, who are too numerous to be named, you all have been the wind in our sails as we navigated uncharted and turbulent seas to reach our goals—we thank you.

To all of the young Black men and boys, participants, sponsors, and volunteers, whose lives have been touched and forever changed by your experience with CBMA, I charge you with this hope as the mantle is passed: Take all that you have learned, all that you have gained and be fearless, bold, earnest, giving, and loving; but most of all be the CHANGE we need and believe you are. Shawn said it best: 

“The work of liberation did not begin with CBMA, and it will not end here either. Black Male Achievement’s legacy lives on in the organizations and leaders fostered by CBMA, in the knowledge we gave to the field, and in the relationships we built with communities across the country. We know our contributions helped move the needle and redirect attention and resources to the needs of our Black men and boys, and our communities more broadly. We urge others to look to the future and use the learnings of CBMA to further the pursuit of justice and equity for those who need it most.” 

As CBMA sunsets as a non-profit organization always remember that the seeds of hope have been planted in each of you. The good work that began with CBMA will continue as you grow, prosper, and build a better tomorrow for generations to come. And know that as the sun sets on one side of the world, rest assured that it is indeed rising on another.

It has been my greatest honor and privilege to serve this organization and the Black Male Achievement field. And as I prepare for my next season, I will continue to reflect on all that I have learned at CBMA and recall often the phrase that we all know so well, be the change that you seek in the world. Don’t wait to be kind. Don’t wait for someone else to be first. Don’t wait for better circumstances or for someone else to change. You be the one to ask that question that’s on everyone’s mind or sit in front of the class while all your friends are sitting in the back. You be the one who will take a stand even if that means you have to stand alone. Besides, if not now, when, and if not you, then who? We’ve been here before so let’s continue to fight so that we leave this space better than we found it. 

Valerie Merritt is Chief of Staff to the CEO at CBMA. Learn more about her work here