In a time where a life can be taken in a blink of an eye or the wrong choice can lead one down a path of no return—Chicago is suffering an epidemic of loss—the loss of our African American men.
Dr. Paul Phillips created the Better Man Than Me Foundation (BMTM), a nonprofit organization, to help provide young men with the day-to-day skills to build a successful foundation in both academics, and job and life skills.
Dr. Phillips was predominately raised in Chicago, having moved around as a child with time spent in Memphis and Dallas. His primary roots are on the Southside. He grew up in the Morgan Park community, attending Morgan Park High School.
“I was raised by a single mom, myself and my three sisters. We struggled financially. One of the things that was key in my life—she put me around successful and educated men. So, I’m a product of mentorship. I’ve always wanted to give back. One of the things those men did was that they gave back to the community,” he said. “I’ve been giving back to the community since I was 12 years old. Before I started the organization, I ran a program that fed the homeless for 20 years so it was always a part of my life.”
For the past 30 years, Dr. Phillips has mentored youth—leading him to start BMTM six years ago. The foundation celebrated their anniversary on April 1.
Although determined to pursue his higher education—he admits he struggled academically when he entered high school.
He recounts his high school experience. “One of the things that I remembered as a straight C student, that I was an under performer in grammar school and high school. My first day in 8th grade year, my teacher told me I was reading at a 6.8 grade school level, and I needed to get that up to graduate,” he said.
“I always felt if we’re the ones that are struggling, we should get more attention, more opportunities to improve so that stuck out to me. In high school, one of the things I noticed with our counselors, the information and the guidance as it related to college prep, was missing.”
Regardless, it was sheer determination and heightened awareness of not being a victim of his circumstances that led him to earning his bachelor’s degree in Accounting and an MBA in both Management and MIS. Phillips also holds a Doctorate in Divinity from the Hope Seminary and Bible Institute. Since becoming an ordained minister at 18, he has held several positions in the faith community.
Throughout his professional career as an IT specialist working in corporate America and traveling abroad, speaking at numerous conferences—he believes his true calling is right in the heart of the community that mentored him as a young boy.
He admits. “First, my faith guides me always. It is not easy, but I know and I believe God has assigned this work to me as part of my calling. Second, when it’s difficulty it’s always God who gives me faith and the energy when I’m physically tired and mentally drained to keep moving and keep doing. One of the things he impressed on me when I was ready to give up because I didn’t see the progress right away, [was] ‘you have to plant a seed in them.’ We see these young men that have issues and we’re sending them back to their own environment and home life where they’re developing these issues in the first place.”
Better Man Than Me Foundation receives a great deal of their referrals from mothers and women who are household heads. The people they guide range from 8 to 40 years old.
One success story Dr. Phillips is proud to tell is of a young man re-entering society from serving three years in prison. He re- calls, “His mother reached out and wanted us to mentor her son. He came to us so humble and ready to improve his life. The first day I met him at one of our events, he asked me if I could help him with his tie. So, we’ve been connected ever since.” He said, he struggled for a while finding employment with five felonies, but through continual guidance and emotional uplifting—the young man began to turn his life around despite the pressure of going back down that dark road to selling drugs.
“Now, he’s doing very well as an engineer. He travels the country and he’s in the process of buying his mother her home and then he’ll buy his home.”
One of the things BMTM also provides to young students is college prep studies. “We know that college is not for everyone, but we give that information and bring different people in so that the young men can understand the process that you go through,” he said.
Although the organization has mentored nearly 2,400 young men, they have also assisted 600 young ladies during these mentoring sessions at various Chicago Public Schools throughout the Chicagoland region.
Dr. Phillips reflects on his first major influences in his youth in the Roseland community, where his first pastor and his wife at Bethel House of Prayer guided him and other neighborhood kids. “His six biological kids had to share him with all of us. He took us camping. I [had] never been camping before, he took us skiing. He and his wife inspired me. That’s why I started doing community work.” Being raised in a home with three sisters, his mom and grandmother—a Dr. Robert “Bobby” Skills would come by the house and grab Phillips for pick-up games on the basketball court.
“He was hard on me and he didn’t pull any punches. I appreciate that because he influenced me. Other men had motivated me as well growing up—Dr. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. These gentlemen gave up their entire lives for the greater good—for the community. Sometimes, I feel that’s me—the work that I do is 24 hours so you must be ready to sacrifice.”