FAU’s Progressive Black Men shattering stereotypes through community service

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Michael Jean-Juste has always considered himself to be a polite and friendly person. Before he was a college student, he said his tall stature and dark skin made people assume he was aggressive and they were fearful in his presence. He said he was hurt by misconceptions and anxiety about race. But once he became a Florida Atlantic University student, Jean-Juste decided to help erase these kinds of stereotypes.

“Being with the Progressive Black Men organization has helped to eradicate these misconceptions wherever we go,” he said. “We’ve helped to change perceptions and people on the campus and off see that we’re kind business professionals, and we give off a good look that helps break those bad contentions.”

Progressive Black Men, Inc. was founded on Nov. 27, 1989, at Florida State University by 12 minority students. Working as a 501c(3) nonprofit service organization, its purpose is to help promote positive images of Black men.

“PBM started spreading to other universities throughout Florida,” said Justin Gadson, internal affairs chairman and parliamentarian for FAU’s Progressive Black Men. “University of Florida, UCF, FIU and now, of course, FAU.”

Its mission to eradicate negative stereotypes placed on people of African descent is carried out through academic excellence and communal support. Progressive Black Men provides beneficial services all while maintaining a fellowship of brothers and high standards of personal integrity. The FAU Chapter of Progressive Black Men, Inc. is the latest chapter added to the organization.

FAU Progressive Black Men member Jean Max works on a Habitat for Humanity project.

FAU Progressive Black Men member Jean Max works on a Habitat for Humanity project. (Progressive Black Men / Courtesy)

“No matter what it is we try to help out as much as we can,” said Jean-Juste, finance student and FAU PBM president. “Ever since 2012, we’ve done a bunch of collabs.”

On Nov. 19, 2012, the FAU chapter of PBM was chartered by eight men and they served as the first in the South Florida area. The students have developed programming to support breast cancer awareness, voter registration drives, Boca Raton’s historic district Pearl City and many others. PBM also organizes food drives for homeless people and works with Habitat for Humanity.

“We have a neighborhood not too far, it’s called Pearl City near Ebenezer Baptist Church on Glades Road and Federal Highway,” Jean-Juste said. “We’ve had a basketball tournament with them, helping with summer camp, and we also collaborate with Feeding South Florida.”

They also do beach cleanups, collect toy donations during the holidays, help with church services, work on home improvements and plant trees.

“We do Pearl City Got Talent and we recruit kids in the neighborhood and we host a summer camp with them playing basketball, put on a talent show and its city that’s near and dear to our heart,” Gadson said.

Members of Florida Atlantic University's Progressive Black Men work on a Habitat for Humanity project.

Members of Florida Atlantic University’s Progressive Black Men work on a Habitat for Humanity project. (Progressive Black Men / Courtesy)

In high school, Gadson was an advocate for mentorship and being proactive in the community. He was a Police Explorer and involved in mentor programs. When he came to FAU, he searched for organizations to join. Once he found PBM, he took that interest from high school and applied it to his college lifestyle. Gadson has been with PBM for a year.

“We love to give back to the community and that’s what this chapter and this organization is mainly based off of,” he said. “We try to be role models, set an example for kids too, and work on and off campus for our overall community.”

On the FAU Breezeway, the main thoroughfare on campus, Progressive Black Men members share their mission and goals with other classmates, students, professors and staff.

“I was speaking to Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Larry Faerman,” Gadson said. “This is my first year planning with PBM. But he mentioned one of our annual events, Blazers in the Arts, and he said he knew all about it and what we do more than me.”

They also have events and meetings, support Greek life and co-sponsor events with other student-run associations such as the Black Student Union.

“A lot of people know about us, they expect great things from us and we have a good face on campus,” Gadson said.

FAU PBM has won awards including the 2021 NAACP Image Awards for Best Brotherhood Organization, the 2021 Community Service Award for the last five years, the 2016 Boca Raton Program of the Year and the 2016 and 2017 Academic Excellence Award.

“Whether it’s for community service events or professional development events, we want to make an impact,” said Jean-Juste. “Especially on areas that haven’t been touched by Progressive Black Men.”

The Progressive Black Men organization at Florida Atlantic University has a mission to help promote positive images of Black men through community service and other programs.

The Progressive Black Men organization at Florida Atlantic University has a mission to help promote positive images of Black men through community service and other programs. (Progressive Black Men / Courtesy)

He said he hopes to inspire the next class and branch off into different states.

“I’d like to make it more national instead of just South Florida,” Jean-Juste said. “The bigger the better because there’s nothing wrong with growing.”

Gadson mentioned a potential PBM podcast discussing issues facing the Black community, dating and reaching out to other students who may need help.

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PBM also plans to adopt a street in Delray Beach, agreeing to make the portion of the road they adopt clean of litter.

Gadson said he realized community service can be something as simple as speaking to someone about how they feel and focusing on others.

And Jean-Juste said he has realized his self-worth.

“People use to see me as aggressive, but I’ve grown past that,” he said.

“Before I joined Progressive Black Men, I didn’t really believe in myself and I had low self-esteem and I never really bet on myself. PBM has shown me how to collab, work with people, become a better leader, and regardless of what’s been said or how someone may feel, become the best version of myself and see the best version for the community.”

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