MBHM – Building STEAM Bridges in Dallas

Making Black History Moments (MBHM): On January 28, 2020, Pastor T.D. Jakes announced the launch of the T.D. Jakes Foundation on CBS This Morning.  The Foundation’s goal is to increase diversity and inclusion, and gender equity, and connect corporations to new, highly skilled pools of talent amid increasing global competition.

(Note: Story begins at 3:21 timestamp)

STEM and STEAM initiatives are neither new nor rare in this day and time.  With the increased reliance on technology evidenced on a global scale it makes sense that we would hear regular messaging about the need for growing the STEM-workforce.  However, for anyone who may be new to this narrative, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and the “A” that you see popping up in the acronym is represents the “arts”.

I am very familiar with this narrative as I have spent a good portion of my career working towards the recruitment and retention of under-represented minorities into STEM-related fields.  There is something that many people tend to shy away from discussing about “diversity” initiatives, so hold on to your hats cause we’re going in!

A LOT of outreach programs are “done to” populations rather than in collaboration with communities in partnership from the very start.  The scenario usually plays out something like this:

(1) A report comes out stating that a recent research finding tells us that we have a problem (e.g., huge deficit in the number of qualified engineers).  The report comes from a very respected research team at university or think tank that we respect and trust.

(2) A team of experts comes together with a plan for how we can address the problem. The team comes up with a plan after a brief review of other solutions people have written about related to the problem.

(3) The team of experts begins hunting for a financial sponsor to test out their solution with a population/community and usually by this point, begins looking for a community partner who can help them to execute the program.  These individuals are often called “champions”.  Many times the communities targeted for intervention are based on the patterns of past funding of the foundation or trust that the research group thinks they have the greatest chance of winning funding from through a proposal process.

(4) The very talented team of experts lands a grant to do the good work and are given a reporting format that guides their collection of data to show the funders that they have done a good job spending the money to address the problem they set out to solve.  The community champion member of the team helps to ensure access to the community where the experiment is being conducted and to smooth over any misunderstandings that may occur between the team of experts and the members of the community throughout the duration of the experiment.

(5) Funding and program ends and the team of experts move on to the next problem that requires their expertise.  Community champion and other local stakeholders do their best to keep the programs running if possible but if outside funding is not obtained and sustained the overall programming usually dies out within a few years time.

We see this pattern a lot in sponsored programs and that does not make them bad, but one has to wonder if there might be a more efficient way to bring solutions to communities who need them most.  What excites me most about the T.D. Jakes Foundation is that I see the potential for increasing the reach and impact of STEM outreach and education programming through the bridge that Pastor Jakes brings through his existing relationships.  Also, the way that Pastor Jakes is going about this shows wisdom that others who work in this space would do well to pay attention to when it comes to building initiatives we want to see outlive us.

The T.D. Jakes Foundation is not the first black-led organization to attempt to raise money and direct funds to groups who work to improve workforce outcomes for African Americans.  In fact, our black religious and civic organizations have a long track record of doing this type of work. However, there are a few important items to note here:

  1. Pastor Jakes formed a foundation separate and apart from the church ministry that has largely defined his career to support this STEAM initiative. This is important to make sure that the missions of both organizations are not confused or placed into conflict unnecessarily.
  2. Pastor Jakes formed a board for the Foundation which he is choosing to be active with during the start up, and a President and CEO of the Foundation has been hired to handle the day-to-day management of the Foundation who has experience working professionally in the nonprofit sector.
  3. Pastor Jakes spent time serving on boards and forming strategic partnerships long before he planned to launch this initiative.  He also worked for several decades with another significant workforce program prior to this initiative.
  4. Last but not least, Pastor Jakes through his time serving the Dallas community has both the business and “cultural” capital to bridge the differences between the communities of the “Haves” and the “Have Nots”.

Remember when I mentioned earlier on that many times programs are “done to” populations?  Building diverse teams of experts from the beginning helps to lessen that occurrence.  Having diverse teams in place within the foundation world is also helpful in making sure true partnerships are built within communities before teams launch initiatives aimed at improving education and workforce outcomes.  Bridgers like T.D. Jakes are essential to doing this type of work and its not just about his “celebrity-like” status.  There are highly effective bridgers in many communities who have never been featured on 60 Minutes.  The success of a bridger is built on trust over time and follow through.  Bridgers operate comfortably and effectively within many different types of settings and work to build and hold teams together for the greater good.

Pastor Jakes is also showing us through his example that faith communities can and should engage in the work of bettering education and workforce opportunities.  As someone who was born into a devout faith community, I know that there are those who struggle with resolving the teachings of many faiths with science and technology and I am encouraged to see believers embrace the challenge of working in support of increasing STEM workforce training and opportunities for African Americans and many other communities that are hugely under-represented in these largely tech-based disciplines.

This effort has such great potential for benefiting the Dallas-Area and I can’t wait to see the good it will do.  To learn more about the T.D. Jakes Foundation please visit https://tdjfoundation.org/.

Marta C. Youngblood is the founder and creative engine behind TheWRITEaddiction creatives co-op founded in 2014 as a virtual community supporting writers from all over the United States of America. Marta’s passion drives her to support the success of creatives from all walks of life to honor their talent and share it with the world. She believes that working in our creative callings does not have to be synonymous with being a “starving artist” and helps creatives master the business skills and strategies they need to work in their gifts.

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