My Origin Story: Max Skolnik, Partner

In 2017, I had the honor of visiting the Northern Cheyenne tribal community in Montana. I had been invited as a representative of MBK Alliance, an initiative launched in 2014 by President Barack Obama to address the systemic barriers faced by boys and young men of color. I had been serving as the Director of National Programs and my primary responsibility was building a support network for the over 240 communities that had answered the President’s challenge. I had never traveled to Indian Country before and was deeply humbled by the stark beauty of Montana, the warm welcome of our hosts, and the bleak future offered to so many Native American youth.

For several months, I processed the experiences of that trip. I thought back on my career path and recognized that I was at a crossroads. Many years ago, I began as a political science academic, obsessed with how societies heal after traumatic periods such as in Chile after Pinochet or South Africa after Apartheid. An interaction with a grandmother on a park bench in Argentina dissolved my scholarly impartiality when she presented me with a moral question. Which was more important, legal and political victories or the knowledge of where her grandson’s bones had been discarded by the regime?

I came back determined to do more with my life than researching and writing and quickly plunged into the hard work of youth development. I worked my way up from the bottom of the nonprofit world and eventually founded my own nonprofit organization, Kid Power, Inc. I made thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, taught countless after-school classes, directed numerous plays, told summer camp ghost stories that were way too scary, dug dozens of garden plots, watched most students grow into responsible adults, watched others drift away and leave a haunting sense of failure,  and had the privilege to witness the ordinary resurrections that occurred nearly every day for the young people who chose to stay in our care.

When Kid Power reached nearly 15 schools and over 1,000 students throughout the District of Columbia, I knew it was time to pass it on to an amazing group of youth professionals, teachers, and parents. I joined the Taproot Foundation and learned an entirely different set of skills. I helped hundreds of DC nonprofits improve the ailing systems that were holding back their impact. I collaborated with global partners to explore new methods of social sector capacity building. I coordinated with Fortune 500 companies to engage their employees in meaningful pro bono service and expand the impact potential of their CSR and D&I practices. I began to realize that the solutions we sought were not in the separate nonprofit, corporate, government, or philanthropic sectors, but in the murky intersection of these worlds.

When I joined MBK Alliance, I knew I had arrived at the right place. We had the strategy, talent, and resources to enact real change in communities across the country. I dived into data analysis, online supports, system-wide engagement strategies, large-scale catalytic events, innovation funding, and more. I was part of the team that transitioned MBK into the Obama Foundation, where it rightfully belonged and has continued to this day.

Still, the trip to Northern Cheyenne kept gnawing at me. We had been offered the extraordinary opportunity to participate in a sweat ceremony, and it shook me in the same way that the grandmother in Argentina had so many years ago. I needed to forge a new path, a new way to see and understand these challenges. I was very fortunate to have two partners and friends along with me for this journey. Together, we launched Generation Titans, and I am certain that great triumphs and resurrections await.