By Cherri Gregg

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Donna Frisby-Greenwood spent her decades-long career creating nonprofits that make big change.

She created the country’s first online voter registration drive as executive director of “Rock the Vote.”  She ran Inner-City Games Philadelphia, and started Children First Inc.

But three years ago, she took her years of knowledge on how to run a nonprofit to the foundation side when she snagged the gig of program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in Philadelphia.

Fast forward, and Greenwood’s effort can be felt rippling through Philadelphia’s African-American community.

“I’ve spent most of my career running nonprofits and having to raise money,” says Greenwood.  “One of the things I really love about this is that I get to share my knowledge with our grantees.”

Greenwood says she loves the Knight Foundation’s philosophy, which is to eliminate barriers to funding for individuals and organizations having a positive impact on the community.

Over the past few years, she says, Knight used “challenges” to level the playing field by allowing ordinary people to apply for funding to bring their community efforts to fruition.  Programs like the Knight Art Challenge and the Black Male Engagement project (a.k.a. “BMe”) were implemented in Philadelphia with Greenwood’s help.

“We’ve made it very simple,” says Greenwood.  “We didn’t ask who you were, we didn’t ask about your background, all you had to do is describe what you wanted to do.”

In 2011, Philadelphia became one of two incubator sites for BMe, which collected the video stories of hundreds of everyday black men who are having a positive impact on their neighborhoods.  Greenwood says the initiative was Knight’s response to reports about the gap in achievement between African-American men and others.

“Telling stories is the kind of thing we like to do,” says Greenwood, “and personally, the African-American men I grew up with — my father, my uncles, my cousins — were all African-American males who were present, were educated, and very active in their community.”

Working with then-vice president Trabian Shorters, Greenwood says the Knight team worked to change the narrative on black men by highlighting those who are achieving.

“Many of them are working in neighborhoods and no one has ever seen or heard of them,” she says.  ” No one’s ever heard of the work they do every day.”

The Knight Foundation has provided hundreds of thousands in grant funding to BMe leaders since the program started.  And today, BMe is its own nonprofit organization run by Shorters, with sites in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Baltimore.

To date, the organization has collected and makes available the stories of thousands of African-American men.

“What’s great about BMe is that a local foundation called me after seeing a story on the BMe site and said, ‘That’s the kind of organization I want to support,’ ” notes Greenwood. “That’s what’s amazing about this opportunity.”

Locally, BMe has supported African-American men such as Anton Moore, who runs Unity in the Community, a nonprofit that supports neighborhoods in South Philadelphia (see related story); and Greg Corbin, a 2013 CBSPhilly Gamechanger who founded the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (see related story).

Greenwood says the vision is to connect the grantees, creating a network of support so that they will grow and flourish.

“We only have so much money we can give away at the end of the year,” says Greenwood, “but if we can provide people supports and connection to resources, they can continue to do the work.”

Hear the extended interview with Donna Frisby-Greenwood in this CBS Philly podcast (runs 20:14)…


For more community affairs stories about “gamechangers” in your neighborhood, follow KYW community affairs reporter Cherri Gregg on Twitter.  You can also “like” her on Facebook.


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