BMS: How did we get here?

How did Black Men Speak do it? They became a Non-Profit Organization!

The Mission of Black Men Speaks is to inform the mental health community and the general public about issues concerning African-American males with mental health and substance abuse challenges. This is done through a speaker’s bureau. Our Goal is to work toward healing the African-American community from the stigma, discrimination, and trauma by sharing our stories and therefore promoting and increasing wellness, recovery, and freedom.

We are African-American men who are getting the word out about the needs of Black men with mental health and substance abuse issues. We share presentations that address topics such as stress, family Issues, wellness and recover, community violence, self-esteem, spirituality, mental health, and African-American History. Often, we do this through telling our personal stories. When we talk about the challenges of trauma, family issues, and community violence, we focus on recovery while still working on ourselves. When we speak, it helps those who are going through the same thing put a face on their issues. Our bi-weekly meetings begin with the unified recitation of the Black Men Speaks Mission Statement. Our presentations begin with our MC sharing the mission and the goal of BMS. Then, the singing group sings the Black Men Speak Anthem. It ends with an interactive question and answers.

Black Man Speaks is a project of the Africa American Males Issues Committee of the Pool of Consumer Champions, Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services. The African American Male Issue Committee began meeting in March of 2009. They enlisted others who wanted to help plan the project. Steve Bucholz, Jaleah Wynn and Sally Zinman helped out BMS tremendously in the early formation of Black Men Speak by creating advocacy opportunities and often speaking out on behalf of the speakers’ bureau.

Darnel Livingston and DeWitt Buckingham started the group with personal power, passion, and a message to help usher in the early formation of Black Men Spoke. These two men had a message to share with everyone that would listen. It began as a project of the African American Male Issues the committee of the Pool of Consumer Champions. The POCC had grown to a group of over 400 consumers by 2009.

Members then were DeWitt, Darnel, John Black Wil Garrett, Roscoe Mosbey, Earnest Hardmon III, James Lockett and Renwicke Vittito. They were Mental Health consumers of services in Alameda County. In 2010 more men became a part of the group Joe Anderson, Kenneth Davis, Harry Caldwell, Horatio Finely and Cameron Edwards. Some of them were a part of the singing group that Harry Caldwell leads called “Purchased By The Blood.” Most people came to the group by word of mouth or were longtime friends and new each other from other activities that they were a part of in the community. In February 2011, I joined Black Men Speak. I came from the online social media world, looking to make new friends in the community. Melvin Knox, Lindsay Hart, and Shaun Carter also became a part of Black Men Speak.

In August of 2011, we made an agreement with PEERS, a consumer run organization in Alameda County. PEERS Headed up the social Inclusion Campaign contract from Alameda County Behavior Health Care Services. Some of their goals were to reach into the African American Community to offer support and deliver services that empowers the African America community. They asked for Black Men Speak to help spread the word and become a part of the Social Inclusion Campaign. For the last two years, August 2011 to August 2013 we delivered more than ten presentations per year at a cost of $15,000.

Black Men Speak began to grow tremendously 2012-2013. Their talents of singing and a sudden influx of Social Media and online Internet marketing began a whole new era for Black Men Speak. The introduction of marketing, branding, and promoting themselves through opportunities in online activity started to become a part of the growth of Black Men Speak. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, and other online activities increased the reach of BMS. Black Men Speak to have been the keynote speakers at the Alternatives’ 2010 and 2011and the CASRA spring and fall conferences.

The sudden death of DeWitt Buckingham and Darnel Livingston in 2012 devastated Black Men Speak. All the consumers who knew them well and those who did not, feel their absence in Alameda County Consumer Services. It took four months for Black Men Speak to regroup, rearrange the leadership and shoot for a new direction. On January 4-5th 2013, the workshop was led by Jaleah Wynn and her supporters. After Black Men Speaks held that retreat, the groundwork was laid to move out into the new direction. We knew where we wanted to go, what we were going to do and when we were going to do it.

Our new website Black Men started in January 2013.

In March 2013 Black Men Speak came together and decided we would not spend any more money from our $15,000 until we became a nonprofit organization. We had $3,900
left at the end of the fiscal year. We took the necessary steps to go through becoming a nonprofit organization. On April 11, 2013, according to the Secretary of the California, we became “Black Men Speak Inc.” Our corporate offices are in San Leandro, California. The work we do is throughout the county, and we are so excited to now take this new step in our growth and development.

In May of 2013 we were called and asked by the Tulare County Mental Health Department to be keynote speakers and workshop leaders that would help to develop a chapter of BMS down in the community of Visalia and Tulare Cities. We were called upon by Cathy Jones of “A Sacred Heart Radio Station” to do radio shows about what we were doing in the community. Black Men Speak continues to spread the message about Black Men Speak in different communities.

Now, we are planning for our 2013 -2014 fiscal year run of events and activities. We eagerly anticipate becoming a lean mean fighting machine to help our community. We are subcontracting with PEERS, and now we are standing up on our own. We are eagerly expecting to go to 2013 Alternatives Conference in December to teach a class on how to start a BMS group in your community. Keep your fingers crossed. We applied for a scholarship, but nothing is confirmed. We are hopeful to end our year on a positive note if given that opportunity

By Brian Hill

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