By Dwight Hobbes
In a day and age when the Civil Rights Era clarion “We Shall Overcome” increasingly has changed for many Black people to “I have overcome,” Ernest Comer III’s sense of commitment to community is a refreshing rarity. “In all the work that I do,” he states, “my purpose lies in building pipelines to success through making connections and empowering others.”
An already experienced community relations professional at 27, with a degree in communication studies from the University of Minnesota with an emphasis on African and African American studies, he has been employed at organizations where his desire to do for others was a perfect fit. For instance, in 2010, at Pillsbury United Communities, Comer was Public Allies program manager and recruitment director in a capacity that to this day reflects his ambition to effectively help bridge the gap between haves and have-nots, seeking to empower the disenfranchised.
“The Measure,” he says, “is a Black male youth initiative that I’ve been working on with a couple of good friends who are also dedicated to this work. I was once told that ‘no one can aspire to what they have not been exposed [to].’ Similar to the education and wealth gaps, there exists an access gap.”
Basically, the access gap means Black adults, and especially our youth, are less likely to be exposed to examples of wealth that are unpopular or not as sensationalized as the sports, media and entertainment industries.” From this insight come his efforts inform aspiring youngsters that there is much more to being a success story than planning to shoot pro hoops, be the next Tyler Perry, or become the once and future hip-hop king — that there’s such a thing as being a white-collar wage earner in business, becoming a lawyer or other professional who isn’t necessarily profiled on the evening news.
Toward that end, there are few things quite as effective as informed networking. “The Measure,” Comer continues, “is an in-school initiative that encourages partnership between schools, nonprofits and communities while providing students with exposure — and more importantly, connection — to successful people who look like them. Additionally, what we’ve built is structured to provide preparation for mentorship, followed by preparation for leadership and preparation for matriculation in such a way that would allow them to understand how to best take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.”
As part of a forum convened and hosted by the national organization Public Allies to interact with President Obama’s administration, Comer was in D.C. in May with the collective 30 Black Men. “Not in a rallying or riotous fashion,” he explains, “but to meet with staff of the Obama administration to discuss with them directly the products of our brainstorming sessions.
“The representatives we met with were the leaders of President Obama’s My Brothers’ Keeper Initiative of which James H. Shelton III, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education, is the executive director.” The specific White House individuals he readily acknowledges he was grateful to meet with were Rafael Lopez, Broderick D. Johnson, Johnathan Greenblatt, Heather Foster and Asim Mishra.
“A presidential memorandum was signed establishing the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to help determine which public and private efforts are working, how the federal government can support those efforts, and how we can get more folks involved in those efforts across the board. According to a White House press release, this is an interagency effort, chaired by Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson, that will help us determine what public and private efforts are working and how to expand upon them, how the federal government’s own policies and programs can better support these efforts, and how to better involve state and local officials, the private sector, and the philanthropic community in these efforts.”
He adds, “Ideas that came of our gathering included things like a national affinity group and think tank for Black male achievement, an initiative focusing on a new pipeline from prison to re-entry, and youth engagement to prepare students for working in their communities.”
The young man also heads up his own initiative, E Howard Co. Professional Innovations (firstname.lastname@example.org), providing such services as training and workshop facilitation, strategic consulting and individualized professional development. “I’m working at MACC CommonWealth as the member resources specialist coordinating training and curating resources to strengthen local nonprofits [and] staying engaged with the national efforts on Black Male Achievement.”
Characteristic of Ernest Comer III, he sums up, “I’m helping others to build their businesses.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses toP.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.