Black business owners and workers too often face systemic biases: from underrepresentation in the boardroom to higher rates of unemployment. In Black-Owned and Proud, we profile innovative Black entrepreneurs building businesses and bringing much-needed change to the face of enterprise.
The year 2020 was a tough time for Myron “Pauly” Jackson as a young Black man in America. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor sparked international social justice movements. Jackson found it difficult to separate his fate from that of those who look like him and his children. He watched his then 2-year-old son participate in local protests, holding a sign that read, “My life matters,” and couldn’t shake that image from his head.
Then, later that summer, Jackson’s brother, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back seven times by police in front of three of his children outside his Kenosha, WI, home. In response to that latest incident of police violence, the Milwaukee Bucks withheld their labor during the middle of the NBA playoffs to demand justice for Jacob Blake.
“The tragedy ignited a wildcat strike throughout professional sports that became one of the biggest signs of national racial solidarity that we’ve seen in years, disrupting a billion-dollar industry,” Jackson says.
Basketball and football players started reaching out to Jackson while his brother lay in the hospital, fighting for his life. For many of these Black male athletes, it was their first time using their celebrity to publicly express their outrage over a social justice issue they took to heart. “It was inspiring to watch these athletes become more empowered to use their international platform for good,” Jackson says.
While his family rallied around his brother, who was confined to a wheelchair, Jackson started to see a pattern in his initial conversations with these athletes: They all had a deep desire to support the communities they came from—neighborhoods that experienced violence, underfunded schools, and few opportunities for young people to be successful. Many shared with Jackson that when they were invited to attend community events, their participation often felt performative. They were yearning to do more than just show up for a photo opportunity.
At the same time, Jackson knew there were thousands of organizations across the U.S. with a deep understanding of the communities with the most need, but they couldn’t get the resources or recognition they needed to move their missions forward.
So he launched Edifye, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that connects professional athletes to grassroots causes they care about. It connects “boots on the ground” organizations with athletes who are primed and ready to use their voices to bring international attention to social justice issues. They were no longer just another basketball or football star; they were a part of the solutions making their communities safer places to be.
It’s great to be high in the air when life sometimes feels so low. This space gives me a sense of purpose.Myron “Pauly” Jackson, executive director and founder of Edifye
From the start, Jackson has worked closely with each athlete to identify where they can best be of service. He finds that the athletes are immediately at ease talking to another Black man about how they grew up, the issues that are hurting them the most right now, and how they want to change the world.
Making good on promises to communities across America
As the fight for racial and social justice marches on, Edifye continues to grow. The organization has partnered with Justin Jackson of the Detroit Lions, named by GQ magazine as the most progressive voice in sports. Edifye has also partnered with Bruce Maxwell, the first Major League Baseball athlete to kneel during the national anthem in 2017 as a silent protest against systemic racism and police brutality in America. Another client, retired sports giant Ben Gordon of the Chicago Bulls, has openly talked about his struggles with mental health and supporting children with autism.
In addition to partnering with existing organizations, Edifye has developed its own programs supporting urban agriculture and community farming in the Chicago area. It recently held a brake light block party with Justin Jackson of the LA Chargers. Together, they fixed broken tail lights for free for community members, a program modeled on actions by the Black Panther Party in Oakland in the 1960s to stop overzealous police stops that sometimes end in death. Edifye also works with tenant rights unions and combat the prison-industrial complex.
This year, Edifye was one of the winners of WeWork’s Small Business Week contest, and Jackson and his team moved into WeWork 330 N Wabash in July 2022. “We were in the early stage of our development where we were continuously learning, and a diligent work schedule was vital,” he says of moving into the new workspace. “The community team—Abby, Devin, Todd, and Giovanna—have all been absolutely awesome. We’re well fed and well hydrated. The workspace is always clean and comfortable, and I’m able to meet clients and get real work done.”
The office is on the 23rd floor with “great views,” Jackson says. “It’s great to be high in the air when life sometimes feels so low. This space gives me a sense of purpose.”
That purpose—inspired by racial injustice, the desire for a better world for his son, and his love for his brother—keeps Jackson going. “My brother is healing mentally, physically, and spiritually,” Jackson says. “He has become a pillar of strength to our Edifye community and family. He speaks highly about perseverance and choosing love before all.”
Halona Black is a freelance corporate brand journalist for the tech industry. She’s been a digital nomad since 2018 and currently calls Kigali, Rwanda, home. Since she started traveling, she has taken up teaching meditation and is training to become an adventure sports athlete.
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