Founder and CEO of Adonai Center for Black Males, Kevin Carter
Q&A with Kevin Clark, Founder and CEO, Adonai Center for Black Males
By Courtney Tolmer
Endowments Communications Assistant
In an effort to combat low education attainment levels, unemployment, underemployment, high incarceration rates and violence in the Pittsburgh region, the Adonai Center for Black Males has developed a Fellows Program which focuses on helping young black men ages 14 to 24. Working with schools and local organizations, Adonai has created and implemented solutions to change negative situations into positive outcomes. Founder and CEO Kevin Carter talks about his organization and the impact it has in the Pittsburgh area.
Q: What was your organization’s biggest triumph of the past year?
A: The Adonai Center was selected as one of five organizations from across to the globe to be highlighted at the One Young World Global Leadership Summit. Filmmakers will produce a three-minute documentary on the Adonai Center’s work and achievements, and it will be shown during the 2015 annual summit in Bangkok, Thailand. This is a huge honor for the Adonai Center. I have had the privilege of serving as a United States ambassador to the summit since 2011. In addition, early this year, the Adonai Center was invited to present its work at two national conferences focused on the development of African American men and boys. And in August of 2014, we received a competitive capacity-building grant from the Institute of Black Male Achievement, one of 20 organizations selected nationally.
Q: What was the biggest trial?
A: Our biggest trial, as for many new and growing organizations, is the ability to cultivate funding resources to strengthen and enhance our work. Interest in our work and recognition of the need for it exist among a range of sources and partners, but identifying funding that can help us build the capacity to meet the demands of different opportunities is very challenging in Pittsburgh’s competitive nonprofit environment.
Q: What issue or event has had the most impact – positive or negative – on your organization in the past year and how have you responded?
A: Over the past year, the Adonai Center has struggled to maintain its stability due to the rising needs among the populations of young men we serve. The increased need and demand for our services places large strains on our capacity, as we never want to turn young men away. This has caused us to revise our programmatic strategy and strengthen the operations of our local chapters to support the increased need. The issues facing young men are critical to the future development of our region as a whole, and ensuring their positive growth and development is critical to our collective success.
Q: What new initiatives have been started?
A: The Adonai Center is a lean machine. Rather than start new initiatives, we spent our time building upon the robust activities and services we already offer. For example, instead of providing short-term tutoring services as we have in previous years, we required some of our participants who were at certain academic levels to attend tutoring regularly for a more extended period of time. The Adonai Center set-up tutoring clinics with our program partners to provide young men the needed support, in addition to offering a Saturday clinic at our offices Downtown.
Q: As head of this organization, what goals do you have for it next year?
A: My goal for the next year is to continue to work on behalf of at-risk young men and to focus on the organization’s strategic direction in order to serve them better. We will also work to cultivate diversified financial resources so that we don’t have to rely too heavily on contribution revenue streams to sustain the Adonai Center long-term. Some possibilities include seeking funding made available through the president’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative and other national organizations investing in this work. Furthermore, the Adonai Center has created a strong model and brand that has received national and international interest. We must position ourselves as an organization and position our messaging to build upon our achievements.
Q: So if your organization were a person, what type of personality would you say it had?
A: If the Adonai Center were a person, it would be the type that doesn’t take no for an answer. It is tough, resilient, persistent in pursuit of its mission and relentless in its service for others. The Adonai Center would give you its last and comfort you in times of despair. It is the friend you always wanted: trusting, encouraging, funny, but most importantly never willing to give up. Not to mention, everywhere you go, it can pick up a conversation with anyone and knows just about everyone.
Q: What’s one of the biggest misconceptions about your organization?
A: The biggest misconception about the Adonai Center is that it is a youth development program that does mentoring, and while that is true, our mission and work is much more expansive. We provide an intensive human capital development approach that integrates an array of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular activities and programs. Our combination of support and coaching, training and development, and hands-on leadership and engagement is making significant strides in the advancement of young men ages
14 to 24. Our fellowships provide 250 to 300 hours of rigorous and high-quality experience, exposing young men to positive role models; corporate, civic and social leadership; global travel and diversity; and post-secondary education. Not to mention, we have many activities for adult men, parents and families to engage in as well!
Q: Can you share a short story about an incident or event that illustrates the impact you believe your organization is having on your local community or the region?
A: The Adonai Center typically works with young men whose GPA is below a 2.0 at the start of their time in one of our fellowship programs. When these young men leave, after participating in our program for two or more years, they see dramatic increases in their academic performance as a result of their hard work, averaging a 2.7 GPA after three or more years of participating with us. This is tremendous for them, as so many didn’t see college as an option.
Q: Could you share a short story about an individual’s experience that captures what your organization is meant to be to the community?
A: It is difficult to share just one story because I have so many of them, but I will share a Facebook post of one of our former participants:
“You know, it's August 14, 2014, 11:57 a.m., and I'm sitting here thinking about how exactly one week from now I will be starting my first day of school at La Roche College, and one main thing that is on my mind is the actual impact the Adonai Center really had on me and other Fellows since 10th grade all the way up to now! So I just want to thank the Adonai Center as a whole because each and every individual that goes into the Adonai office each morning leaves an impact on so many individuals, that they should be recognized for their actions — you guys are the real MVPs. I hope the Adonai keeps on spreading within the Pittsburgh region and hopefully nationwide so that every soon-to-be Fellow can really understand what it takes to push forward in this world as a Fellow and as a leader!” – Carletio Seymour