Don't miss this dynamic follow-up to Eric Grimes' keynote at our 2014 Conference:
Stewardship of the Moment, Movement
and Momentum for Milwaukee's Black Men and Boys
Thursday, May 7
8:00 a.m. - Noon
Now is the time to best position Milwaukee nonprofits to create significant pathways of opportunity and access for our Black men and boys. Click here for seminar details and
How Eric Grimes will equip Milwaukee nonprofits to build up Black males
By Molly Willms, NPC Guest Blogger
What has an Italian sports car’s trademark “growl” to do with the disadvantages faced by boys and men of color in Milwaukee?
To the uninitiated, both appear to be unfortunate accidents,
when in fact they exist by design.
That is the theory Eric Grimes – activist, author, speaker and educator – came up with after his girlfriend remarked on a noisy Lamborghini, saying the engine needed to be fixed. It was only later that Grimes learned the “growl” is what makes a Lamborghini a Lamborghini.
“Sometimes we think a growl is a mistake, but sometimes the growl is the signature, Grimes said. “And so we are trying to fix the issue of inequity as if it’s a mistake. What if inequity is a signature of the system?”
Grimes first came to Milwaukee as the keynote speaker at the 2014 Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee conference, “Building Opportunity for Boys and Men of Color.”
In May, he will host a workshop to give nonprofits and individuals some skills, tools and resources to best overcome the disadvantages and inequities faced by Black men and boys in Milwaukee.
Grimes is a senior manager for the New York City-based Campaign for Black Male Achievement and Boston-based Root Cause, a consulting agency for nonprofits and other groups.
Grimes works all over the country, but three current “spotlight cities” for Black Male Achievement are Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.
For all the staggering inequities face by Black males in Milwaukee – such as disproportionately high incarceration and unemployment rates, among others – Grimes says the city is taking some unique steps in the right direction.
“Milwaukee may be the only city in the nation where the city administration is really organizing and creating departments and staff positions with a particular focus on Black Male Achievement,” Grimes said. “A lot of other cities have talked about the need to focus on that lens, but Milwaukee is actively, through its mayor and through its Black Male Achievement Advisory Council, putting in place mechanisms, paid staff, time, to focus on how this city has a more equitable approach to how it deals with Black men and boys in the city.”
Another positive step, Grimes said, is the work of UW-Milwaukee Assistant Professor Decoteau J. Irby, Ph.D., the co-founder of AAKT Concepts, who emphasizes preserving and restoring dignity as a means to end oppression. Individuals and organizations can measure their actions and attitudes against this “dignity framework” to determine what is working and what needs to change.
The city struggles with the high incarceration and unemployment rate, which can begin with myths and stereotypes about Black males’ behavior, attitudes and skill sets.
Grimes says that the first step to upsetting the norm of Black males on the bottom of every life outcome indicator is upsetting the people who live within the system that allows it.
“People have to understand how systemically embedded that is, that people are okay with Black men and boys committing a level of homicides disproportionate to everyone, being incarcerated at a level disproportionate to everyone… not just in the city, across this nation,” he said. “We’ve become very comfortable with that as the norm, as the growl, as the ‘Lamborghini growl.’ We’re very comfortable with that reality. Until there is a critical level of discontent with this reality, we can't begin to imagine a new one."
The workshop will help community advocates working with Black males “actualize” alternate possibilities, Grimes said, then give them the tools to turn their discontent with the status quo into change for the better.
“If you’re going to ask somebody to stop doing something in a particular way and start doing something new, you have to build the bridge between the old and the new and show them that it can be done,” Grimes said. “That’s what I’m hoping to do in May.”
Eric Grimes’s workshop will run from 8 a.m. to noon on May 7 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut St. in Milwaukee. Register here by May 1.