Monique Liston

Founder, Ubunte Research & Evaluation

Milwaukee, WI

The narrative piece is so crucially important because it's not only what narrative is being perpetuated. It's the idea of which ones we put value in, and which ones we accept as true.

I got into the Black Male Achievement work right around President Obama's My Brother's Keeper announcement, while I was in graduate school, and my first question was “What about the girls?” And while I was researching around that, I kind of fell into really understanding Black Male Achievement more, particularly because Milwaukee has this history of really focusing on how do we improve the lives and outcomes of boys and men of color, particularly Black males.

For my dissertation research I focused on this idea of dignity. How do we protect, respect, and fulfill the dignity of Black males? And that's been sort of my sermon, and I've been preaching it across the city for the last two years, of how important the dignity of Black males is. What does it look like? How do we protect it? And how do we show ourselves our deep-seated, often unchecked, biases, connections to racism, sexism and homophobia by the way that we treat the Black males in our communities.

That work is also connected to a lot of the community work that I do, being unapologetically here for Black people.

Waking up as Black woman everyday is what motivates me to do what I do for my community. It's how I'm showing up in the world. I want other people to connect with that. I want to connect with other people who understand that identity, who want to embrace that identity. That’s the large motivator.

I talk a lot about being a woman who really does a lot of male-focused work; what does that look like and what are the challenges within it. It’s also motivating: I grew up with four younger brothers. I have no sisters. On my Dad's side of the family, I was the only girl, and it wasn't even like I was separated like, "Oh you're the girl." I was nurtured by males.

I was around Black males all the time and understand their differences. Understanding their uniqueness, their quirkiness, talent, humanity and seeing them as full human beings was something that was natural for me because I grew up like that. And also understanding that the world around me doesn't see them that way was troublesome, and a little bothersome.

I think my connection to dive in deep in that work myself is to try to share, in that big picture, that sense of dignity; but in that smaller picture, I've experienced this world that was created for me as a young person in which young Black males were living their lives abundantly and not bound by any expectation of them to be a certain type of young Black boy.

The narrative piece is so crucially important because it's not only what narrative is being perpetuated. It's the idea of which ones we put value in, and which ones we accept as true. What I talk a lot about in my work is that power dynamic, and how power works within us understanding ourselves.

We realize that people have power to push something towards us and then we also accept it, and that can continually be promoted. The words that we share, the way that we use language, it reflects so much about how we feel about ourselves in the world, that it's important for us to think about where our voices are coming from.  How am I using my voice? What is my voice promoting, what is it not promoting? How do we understand ourselves within the system of oppression? How do we use our voice within in it, and what power does our particular voice have when we're in a certain space?

I think that kind of power consciousness is critical for us to really get to the depth of changing the narrative on the grand scale and then also what we consume in our daily dialogue with family members, people on the street, people that we see in church or in small community based groups. How do we make sure our narratives match what we're trying to attain in the grand scheme of things.

Learn more about Monique here, and follow her on Twitter @modupeliston.