Game Changers 2012

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The Game Changers Project

by Cheo Tyehimba Taylor

Cheo Tyehimba Taylor, an award-winning journalist, digital producer and writer, is the creator and executive director of the Game Changers Project, a multi-city fellowship program for emerging Black filmmakers in partnership with organizations working to improve outcomes for Black males. The program launched in Pittsburgh in 2011 with support from The Heinz Endowments as part of the foundation’s African American Men and Boys Initiative.

In 2010 when I set out to launch a national storytelling project that would employ the talents of our best and brightest Black male media makers, I envisioned a program that would extol the lesser-known virtues of men of African descent that are often ignored in mainstream media. That vision had to do with, to paraphrase Ralph Ellison, dismantling the shadow from the act.

Back in 1949, in a film critique of “Birth of a Nation and Intruder in the Dust,” Ellison observed that "in the beginning was not the shadow, but the act, and the province of Hollywood is not action, but illusion." Even then, Ellison knew that attacking Hollywood for negative portrayals of Black folks would be a waste of time, because ultimately, the entertainment industry was not the creator of societal myths in the media. They were (are) the manipulators of these myths, the mass producers of distorted, carnival mirrors upon our society.

The focus of the Game Changers Project is to "catalyze a new generation of activist storytellers" who will re-frame the perceptions and portrayals of Black males in the media, but our game plan has become more offensive than defensive, more about the art of the story, the unique perspective of the individual versus any attempt at broad definitions of Black success. That is, we are more concerned with storytelling that unveils our full, unfettered humanity rather than reacting to negative media stereotypes.

Are ultimately redemptive or “positive” stories completely free of their share of contradictions or ugliness? Nope. Will the characters we profile be free of controversy? Unlikely. But the Game Changer brand of storytelling, whether in micro-documentary form, multi-part webisodes, or narrative, will be about telling universal stories of resiliency, truth, and rarely seen beauty. We will discover a "higher narrative" about Black males in America.

In cities such as Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and New Orleans, we cover stories and organizations that lift up more inspiring reflections of Black men and boys. True game changers cannot be categorized, branded, or marketed solely on their own merits. Who they are, I mean who they really are – their total humanity – is truly indivisible. Were Martin Luther King, Jr. or Malcolm X merely civil rights leaders? Were they not fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, preachers, hustlers, convicts, writers, scholars, etc.? Are their contributions limited to a single social movement or do their lives continue to find resonance with each new generation? Like all true game changers, they thought differently and represented ideas that were slightly ahead of their time.

Do you know Black men who are working in relative obscurity but who get up each and every day and defy all expectations? Do you know brothers who are lifting as they climb? Do you know men who are shaking up the established order, charging the wall of current social, political, spiritual, cultural, economic convention? If they are part of a larger cause or an organization that is committed to societal good, they’re likely game changers.

By partnering with community-based organizations in specific cities across the country to produce socially relevant short films, we hope to become a part of a larger movement in America to re-imagine brighter futures for Black men and boys, and in doing so, add our little light toward what we know is an inevitable "tipping point" that will reveal new insight about who we really are. 

To learn more about the Game Changers Project, visit

The 2012 Pittsburgh Game Changers: 

Creative Fire: Pittsburgh Arts Group Helps Transform Youth
by Game Changers Project fellow Haji Muya
Learning about ceramics at Pittsburgh’s Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild helped Dexter Fairweather bounce back from the tragic death of his mother and expulsion from school to become valedictorian of his high school class.


REINVENTION: A Son Builds on Father's Legacy of Activism
by Game Changers Project fellow Chris Ivey
Rev. Cornell Jones fights to keep the doors open at Pittsburgh's Urban Youth Action, an organization his late father, Bernard H. Jones, Sr., founded in 1966 to address the lack of employment opportunities for black youth in Pittsburgh – a problem that remains today. 


Pittsburgh choir helps black boys find their voice 
by Game Changers Project fellow James Robertson
Founded in 1989, the Afro-American Music Institute has used music as a gateway to helping young black men in Pittsburgh gain life skills and academic success.


Personal Best
By Game Changers Project fellow Jasiri X
Formerly incarcerated Charles X. Cook reinvents himself as a successful entrepreneur in the personal fitness industry.


Lifting as they Climb: The Heinz Fellows
By Game Changers Project fellow Chris Ivey
A group of young African American male professionals and recent college graduates form the first class of the Endowments-supports Heinz Fellows program. As part of their two-year commitment, the men serve as role models and mentors to struggling black male students at Pittsburgh Westinghouse, one of the most troubled high schools in the city.


Giving Back with Hip Hop
By Game Changers Project fellow Haji Muya
After six years of owning a state-of-the-art recording studio in Pittsburgh, Emmai Aliquiva decided to give back to the community by founding Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. (Leadership Skills, Organizational Skills, Cooperative Economics and Knowledge of the Music Business). The youth education and mentoring program provides students with hands-on learning about the music industry while helping them sharpen academic skills they will use in school and a career.


Rebuilding Dreams
By Game Changers Project fellow Chris Ivey
Project O.N.E. is a Pittsburgh-based urban renewal program powered by black men whose own lives are in the process reconstruction. 


J.T. Thomas: From the Field to the Community
By Game Changers Project fellow James Robertson
James "J.T." Thomas helped the Pittsburgh Steelers win four Super Bowl championships, and now he brings the same winning energy and passion to his community service, which includes mentoring young African American men.


Gator for Life
By Game Changers Project fellow Haji Muya
Almost 20 years ago, four men decided to use youth sports as a deterrent to gangs in Pittsburgh. The Gators Football Program continues to positively influence young lives – and to help save them.


They Can be What They See
By Game Changers Project fellow James Robertson
The 100 Black Men of Southwestern Pennsylvania mentors at-risk black youth by giving them a different vision of their future.


Paradise the Architect: Hip Hop Game Changer
By Game Changers Project fellow Jasiri X
When Paradise Gray was a young street DJ, he was mentored by some of hip-hop's legendary founding disc jockeys: Disco King Mario, Pete “DJ” Jones, The Grand Imperial DJ J.C., and DJ C.C. Howard. As executive director of Pittsburgh's One HOOD, a youth organization committed to youth empowerment and violence prevention, Gray is using hip-hop to change the lives of young Black men for the better.


A Song for Trayvon: Jasiri X raps, speaks to ACLU about case
By Game Changers Project fellow Jasiri X
Rap activist and Game Changers Program fellow Jasiri X combined the lyrics of his viral music video "A Song for Trayvon" and an interview with Witold “Vic” Walczak, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director for Pennsylvania, to create a unique analysis of legal questions surrounding the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot Trayvon in Florida in February 2012.


WQED's Spotlight on Game Changers Project
Pittsburgh’s WQED Multimedia spotlights The Heinz Endowments-supported Game Changers Project and includes interviews with founder Cheo Tyehimba Taylor and the 2012 filmmaker fellows.