by Ace Epps

In 2015, I was asked to take a trip to Detroit. The request came from Fred Wright, who was the CEO of the Akron Urban League at the time. I had been working at the Urban League for seven years, and Mr. Wright understood my passion for working with young Black males in the areas of entrepreneurship, reentry and workforce development. 

During the three-hour, music-filled drive, Mr. Wright told me that we were going to meet with the Trabian Shorters, CEO of a new organization called BMe Community. He said that BMe Community is a network of social innovators, leaders, and champions who invest in aspiring communities. At the time, BMe Community was focused on changing the narrative of Black men by highlighting them as assets to cities throughout the country.

These men were entrepreneurs, mentors, teachers, coaches and pastors who were succeeding in areas in which a lot of organizations were failing. They were contributing to our cities by working to help reduce infant mortality rates, assisting individuals dealing with substance abuse and helping adult learners return to college. 

BMe Community also began to tell a fuller story of the daily contributions made by these Black men by creating a fellowship that highlights their programs and organizations. 

When I heard all that BMe was doing to create better communities, I knew that I wanted to be involved. 

I helped bring this award-winning network to our beloved city of Akron. With the help of the Knight Foundation and GAR Foundation, BMe Akron identified 19 BMe Leaders and granted each of them $10,000 to support their continued work and local impact projects. 

BMe Leaders, now BMe Geniuses, are deserving Black males who are leading by example and making Akron better for us all.

BMe Leaders include men like John Thompson, a local entrepreneur who informally mentors any young man who sits in his barber’s chair. He believes that churches and barbershops are the true social service agencies in the Black community. His passion for doing for others is also illustrated in his abilities as a barber. John enjoys cutting hair so much he is willing to teach others the craft creating jobs and hope for individuals.

Austin Clopton is the owner of Developing Student Athletes Academy (DSA Academy). Austin is a former collegiate athlete from Tiffin University with degrees in sports management and business administration. He is a football coach, personal trainer and mentor who is passionate about academics as well as sports. He mentors young student athletes in sports and life. He takes students on college tours and to football camps. 

I have been working in the nonprofit sector for since 1999. I have worked at the Oriana House, focusing on reducing recidivism for our returning citizens. I also served as a job developer and facilitator at the Akron Urban League, where I helped unemployed ex-offenders find employment and start businesses. As a Community Manager and Fellowship Director at BMe Community, I have learned the importance of inclusion and diversity in the workplace and in entrepreneur resources.

Over the years I have been honored to have worked with these incredible Black men by exposing their genius to greater Akron. Through events, outreach efforts and my weekly WAKR radio show, I have been able to help these individuals make a difference simply by helping them be themselves. These geniuses would be contributing to better communities even if BMe Akron never existed. 

In the following months, I will be featuring local Black men and women who are redefining Akron and creating a better tomorrow for us all. People like John Thompson and Austin Clopton deserve to be publicly appreciated for the positive impact they have on people and families in our community. So, to John and Austin, keep doing what you do, and I thank you for being you. See you next month. 

Ace Epps is Director of Inclusive Entrepreneurship at Bounce Innovation Hub and host of Akron Community Voice on WAKR. Contact him at aepps@bouncehub.org and learn more about the radio show at www.akroncommunityvoice.org.

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