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A better now

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The Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST), an initiative led by a coalition of local stakeholders that includes the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, city of Little Rock, Arkansas Baptist College, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pulaski Technical College and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, is determined to show you that what you see and hear about black and brown boys and men isn't the whole story. And by dissing our classmates, co-workers and colleagues, we're all paying the price.

How are we dissing folks? Let's start with visibility. Boys and men of color are invisible until they aren't in Central Arkansas.

Think about it. How many students living south of Interstate 630 in Little Rock do you hear about who are graduating summa cum laude? How often do you see restaurant owners and chefs from Little Rock's African-American and Latino communities provide cooking lessons on local morning talk shows? How many entrepreneurs getting their start on 12th Street have you met on an evening newscast? They're there, I promise you, but they might as well be invisible.

Don't believe me? Look up Russell Roosevelt Williams III, a sophomore at Philander Smith College who was recently recognized by the White House as an academic All-Star for his scholastic performance, community leadership and civic engagement. You can also look up Treston Hawkins, a senior at UAPB who, despite being a double-amputee, traveled a half mile in Washington, D.C., at 5 a.m. every morning last summer to complete his internship at the USDA Rural Development Office. While you're on Google, check out Apptegy, a startup company launched in Little Rock by an Indian immigrant determined to transform how schools engage families and communities. In fact, there are so many stories like these that BMOST partners hosted the Arkansas Summit on African-American Males last October, an event that highlighted how these males we so seldom hear about are excelling in education, leading their communities, and transforming industries through entrepreneurship.

Now, how often do you read about violence in Southwest Little Rock? How often do you see young, black male faces on the nightly news because they've been arrested and convicted? You know they're there because you hear and see them all over the local news. The story people begin telling themselves, because it's the only story they see, hear and read, is that our fellow residents are lazy, violent and criminal. But where are the stories about scholars, community leaders and entrepreneurs of color?

BMOST is committed to creating a #BetterNow for our classmates, co-workers and colleagues. Their vision is that boys and men of color, empowered to succeed in their schools and careers, strengthen the Central Arkansas community. Together, BMOST partners are doing their part to continuously improve how their organizations serve our neighbors in Central Arkansas using data about how they are supporting the success of historically marginalized males in school and the workplace. Partners know they can't do this work alone, which is why they are reshaping the narrative through advocacy and online storytelling to build a community of individuals and organizations committed to creating a #BetterNow for boys and men of color.

The story we're telling ourselves about our classmates, co-workers and colleagues — a false story that keeps getting told on the radio, on TV across the Internet, and in our newspapers — is creating how we think about them. And that's a problem. When our teachers tell themselves this story about our classmates, they see students who don't apply themselves and misbehave. When our co-workers and employers in Little Rock tell themselves this story, they inaccurately see potential employees and co-workers as unqualified or lazy. Ultimately, that costs us because we're not preparing our future workforce, we're not providing folks the jobs they need to build our community, and we're creating unnecessary obstacles in front of brilliant innovators and entrepreneurs who can drive our shared economic progress forward.

So do your part to make boys and men of color visible more for what they're achieving and accomplishing within our community than for what a few of them aren't. When all of us tell a better story and encourage one another to do the same, we're not just improving how we view many dismissed members of our community, we're also supporting our classmates, co-workers and colleagues by acknowledging how valuable they are to our future.

Brad Cameron-Cooper is a communications and knowledge management associate at the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

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