BE Modern Man is an integrative program that honors the essence, image, and accomplishments of today’s man of color. With features of today’s leaders, executives, creatives, students, politicians, entrepreneurs, professionals, and agents of change—these men share the common thread of creating a new normal while setting the bar in tech, art, philanthropy, business, and beyond. The BE Modern Man is making a positive impact, his way, and has a story to tell.
BE MODERN MAN GERARD LITTLEJOHN
Name: Gerard Littlejohn
Profession: Executive Director, Steve Smith Family Foundation; Founder, The Level One
One Word that Describes you: Ambitious
What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?
Making this list is a bit surreal for me. I remember reading Black Enterprise magazines as a kid in the barbershop as I waited to get my haircut. I used to think people in that magazine were superstars and thought I’d never get to that level. To be recognized for who I am and what I’m doing is amazing because I don’t do anything for my own recognition.
What are some examples of how you have turned struggle into success?
I grew up in a pretty unique household (my mom, aunt, grandmother, and cousin) in which we lived in the projects and I didn’t get my own bed until I was 13. I used to get so upset that I didn’t have the typical two-parent household and didn’t grow up with much
money, but I know it’s made me successful. Now, I get to consult with organizations and individuals about their philanthropic impact on communities that look like the ones I grew up in. It also inspired my friends and I who had similar experiences, as we launched
our own nonprofit a few years ago called DREAM, where we mentored young black men from grades 6-12. Our first class of kids just graduated from high school in Lexington, North Carolina, this year, and we’re now looking to shift to a scholarship-based model.
What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others?
Any relationship I enter has to be mutually beneficial. So many times, people come to the table with what they want you to do for them. If you can approach a relationship thinking about how both sides can win and meet their goals, you’ll see those relationships last for a long time.
What are some of the immediate projects you are working on?
In Charlotte, former NFL player Steve Smith has a huge reach in the community through his foundation that I have the privilege of running. We have a free medical and counseling clinic, the Smith Family Wellness Center, which provides services free-of-
charge to low-income families. I’m working with a local hospital system and another nonprofit, Project 658, to streamline our operations and scale-up our services offered.
My consulting agency works with organizations and individuals to shape their perception and publicity in the marketplace—primarily through social responsibility, marketing, and public relations. One of my clients is pretty amazing, it’s a group called Profound Gentlemen. Founded by two former teachers, they seek to provide resources and retain male teachers of color in schools across the country. We’re working on a campaign this year called “I Belong Here,” that will tell the stories of these men making an impact on boys of color. Studies show a black student is three times more likely to graduate if they are surrounded by a male teacher of color.
What is the best advice you ever received?
My grandfather would always tell me to be a ditch-digger as a kid. He would say, “If you do that well enough, someone will notice you and you won’t have to dig ditches anymore.” I had no idea what it meant at the time but it makes perfect sense now. Don’t be afraid to do the dirty work while going unnoticed. If you keep your head down and do the work, eventually someone will notice.
What advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?
Figure out how to tie your passion and talent together. That’s where your purpose lies. I’ve seen so many talented people burn out because they aren’t passionate about what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your day job and your passion are one in the same, it just means you have to find something you’re passionate about to invest your time into. It’s as simple as getting into coaching or being a mentor.
How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event?
I’m a research nut. I want to know who I’m meeting with, their background, and some sort of commonality. That way, we strike a chord early and you build equity with someone. I also pray, then execute. The latter I know I can do, but I can’t do it without the prior.
As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.
I try my best to unplug and focus on being in the moment, whether it is just with my wife or when we travel with our daughter, Mia. It’s tough because being an entrepreneur, you are the work and nothing moves without you.
We had an anniversary trip to Vegas last year that was really fun because we were able to just relax without any responsibility.
If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I have yet to go to Europe, so probably hitting Italy (where my wife was born), Spain, and Greece. I’d also love to go to Africa one day.
What is your “Extraordinary Impact?”
To summarize, I’m using my life as a platform to inspire another generation or even the next Gerard. I’ve been blessed to have an interesting mix of experience, from working in PR for the NBA to working in marketing for a couple of Forbes companies like Lowe’s and Dick’s Sporting Goods, to now running the foundation of an All-Pro NFL athlete and launching my own consulting business. I’m now able to craft messages, execute programs, and create events that make a direct impact on communities that serve my people. It’s important to me because I know I was on the receiving end before. Now, I can use my talents and ideas to create change. And because of my accomplishments and my work, the most important thing I get to do is to go and speak to students and mentor them directly when I can. That’s the most fulfilling thing, knowing I can help change the trajectory of someone’s life just based on sharing my story and inspiring through my work.
Anything else you’d like to say?
I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything without the love and support from my wife Eboni. She’s my tag-team partner and I’m thankful for her and my daughter, Mia. I’m also thankful for my mom and family, my tight circle of friends, and the various other
men who helped mold me into the man I am today.