Helping those who help their communities

Posted: February 27, 2012

DURING HIS nearly five-year prison sentence, Brandon Jones thought of ways to ensure that he'd never again see the inside of a prison cell once he got out.

He also made it his life's mission to keep as many young black men in Philadelphia from meeting the same fate.

Jones was one of 10 men honored at the inaugural Black Male Engagement Leadership awards last night in West Philadelphia.

Last February, his program, God's Love at Work, constructed a replica prison cell in North Philadelphia for at-risk youth to visit, "Just letting them know, jail is for suckers - education over incarceration," he said.

The leadership awards, given by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the Open Society Foundation, provided the men with $243,000 in grant money to fund programs aimed at improving communities.

Based on the response for entries, said Trabian Shorters, vice president of communities at the Knight Foundation, the program will solicit entries again this fall.

"It's not a program to help black men, it's a program to support the black men who are helping their communities - totally different," he said, adding that an important element to encourage black men to take control of their communities is by providing resources to help them do so.

"You can't build on your deficits," he said, "You can't build on what's not there."

Mayor Michael Nutter congratulated the group, and said solving some of the problems in the city's communities begins with recognizing those who are working to make things better.

"We're role models sometimes, whether we realize it or not," he said, "This is about an investment, and it's long term."

Also honored were:

Greg Corbin - The Legacy Project, one-man theater performance.

Tyree Dumas - Y-Not Youth, after school homework help and dance instruction.

Russell Hicks - FLASH Mob, entrepreneurship through social media.

Reuben Jones - Frontline Dads, mentoring, intervention and conflict resolution.

Solomon Jones - Words on the Street, literacy program.

Ari Merretazon - Pointman Soldiers Heart Ministry, veteran reintegration program.

Alex Peay - Rising Sons, after-school mentoring program.

Eric D. Williams - Project Elijah Empowering Autism, after-school program for autistic kids.

Shawn White - Phreman Audio Studio Academy, youth media training to promote antiviolence and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Contact Phillip Lucas at 215-854-5914 or, or follow on Twitter @UnPhiltered. Read his blog