"Good is an understatement," said Victor Mgbeafulu when asked about the Ford Men of Courage leadership forum at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. "The word that comes to mind is 'impactful.'"
Mgbeafulu and Duminie Allen attended the forum—which included panel discussions, individual speakers and workshops relevant to Black men—as ambassadors to the Men of Courage programming and events in late 2021.
Men of Courage is a grassroots initiative of the Ford Motor Company Fund that showcases positive narratives about African American men through storytelling, leadership forums and community outreach.
"Jonathan Wilkins (a senior consultant at Deloitte) shared a poem by Dr. Benjamin Mays called 'Just a Minute' that I memorized. It was about how fast things can change, how important one minute is and how we need to value the time given us," said Mgbeafulu, a 22-year-old mathematics major at Wayne State University in Detroit. "Mr. Wilkins also talked about things we could do to be better men."
Mgbeafulu added that the forum allowed young people to encounter influential Black men of "different ranks and levels" who have and are paving the way for a better future.
Mgbeafulu and Allen documented 12 events that were part of the Men of Courage Barbershop Challenge, in which Detroit-area barbershop finalists Shears and Shaves Spa in Detroit and Greathouse Barber & Beauty LLC in Southfield, Michigan hosted a series of innovative community programs in their shops. The students took photos and videos and conducted interviews. They then submitted their presentations to the judges.
Allen, a 24-year-old design major, said, "A lot of the events dealt with interpersonal issues, such as men's health, or educating people on such things as human trafficking and how people could help, direct or guide someone to be in a safer position."
Shears and Shaves, owned by Dawn Sandford, focused on teaching families to be self-sufficient through financial and economic literacy, spiritual growth and life skills, such as gun and fire and carbon monoxide safety. Greathouse Barber, owned by Duane Greathouse, instructed community members on attaining financial wealth and mentored youth through its Boys to Men Barbershop Talk.
Ford Fund recently named each shop a grand prize winner of $10,000 for its community partnership and efforts during the challenge.
Allen is a member of The Brotherhood, a student organization that Wayne State created as a safe space for Black males. He said barbershops are integral to their communities because they can also be a safe space.
"You build a level of trust with your barber and the people who are regularly there. The conversations are enriching. You're able to talk to someone about something you're not able to share with someone else," Allen said.
One of the things Mgbeafulu relishes most about barbershops and the events he recently attended is the ability to talk with people who have the experience and resources needed to help young men get through difficult situations.
"The dude who is 35 was once 22, and the dude who is 60 was once 18. They can give advice and be mentors. These events bring everyone together," Mgbeafulu said. "All in all, this opportunity was a great, wholesome experience from beginning to end. Seeing men from different walks of life, hearing what they value and learning about what they specialize in is valuable. These events encourage people to come out and make a mark in the community, to put their best foot forward."
The Ford Men of Courage leadership forum and barbershop challenge are complementary grassroots activations to the Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth. exhibit created by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. The exhibition visited the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit in late 2021. Made possible through the support of Ford Fund, Men of Change highlights revolutionary men—including Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, W.E.B. Du Bois and Kendrick Lamar—whose journeys have altered the history and culture of the country. Learn more about the exhibit and Ford Men of Courage Detroit events here.