Student-run organization seeks to change perceptions of minorities

Black Male Empowerment works to make a difference

More stories from Taylor Hagmann


Dennis Beale, the founder of Black Male Empowerment

In 2016, there were over 3,900 shooting victims in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune

One of the victims was Derrick Swanigan, who was shot and killed in December of that year while on a visit home from UW-Eau Claire, where he attended school. 

It was his death that led to the formation of Black Male Empowerment, Dennis Beale — the founder of the BME — said.

“I heard a quote at a conference that was, ‘Use your pain as propane, and use it to spark something in your life,’” Beale said. 

For Beale, an alumnus of UW-Eau Claire, that “something” was BME.

Lewis Balom, a fifth-year public relations student, is the organization’s current president until his graduation in December.

Balom said even before it was officially an organization, BME was already a “brotherhood.” 

He was part of a group of young men from northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin who supported each other and moved to Eau Claire together.

The BME officially started in February of 2017 after Swanigan’s death, Beale said. The organization has recruited almost 30 men.

Although the title of the organization is “Black Male Empowerment,” Beale said that anyone, regardless of race, is welcome to join. 

I feel as if everyone should be provided an opportunity … Race isn’t really a factor,” Beale said.

In order to enroll in the BME, applicants must meet with an advisor, be paired with a mentor and then be assessed to see if they would be a good fit for the group, Beale said. 

“Our mission statement is to ‘Bring together men of distinction to form a brotherhood that can’t be broken, put a positive imprint on the world and bring black empowerment to UWEC,’” Balom said.

Beale said the purpose of the group is to change the perception of African American men in society. Being in a predominantly white institution, there are a lot of stereotypes of Black men, and he said he wanted to change that. 

The BME seeks to change those views by encouraging its members to be out in the community making a positive impact, Beale said. The organization provides opportunities for the members, which range from volunteering with local charities, such as the Boys and Girls Club, to studying abroad in England.

“(In the BME,) students of minorities are educated and given the tools to succeed — to help each other be better men,” Balom said. 

Balom also said the BME is there to show those in the dominant culture that minorities and different races have different ways of showing intelligence — that just because they don’t always sound or act like the dominant culture, doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent.

Balom said he wanted the BME to change the world for the better and to pave the way for future generations.

“We’re here for posterity and to seek knowledge,” Balom said. “We’re here for outreach. We’re here to make a positive impact on the world.”

People in Eau Claire helped changed Beale’s perspective, he said, and he wanted to pay that forward to others by taking them to those resources that are available. 

“Relationships, scholarships, internships and leaderships,” Beale said. “What do all these words have in common? Ships. Ships sail and continue to take you places.”

For more information about the BME, Beale encourages interested parties to attend informational meetings. For details on the meetings or the group itself, visit their Facebook page

Hagmann can be reached at [email protected].