Ky Dele is in the middle of a national tour to honor black male leaders, an initiative that will soon expand to global proportions.
"It's a tree that's growing so fast," the 43-year-old Delaware County native said.
On Friday, the marketing maven, now based in New York, will hold The Made Man (TMM) in Philadelphia. It's an all-day event that is part of a national mission dedicated to honoring more than 50 black influencers from different fields and backgrounds in each city.
Dele, the executive director and founder of The Made Man, started it seven years ago, hosting functions sporadically in different cities across the country.
"I knew all these amazing men," she said. "I thought, let's get together and give back. If we're going to give the underserved something, let's acknowledge the people doing it."
But she said she had no idea it would grow to this size. Philadelphia is the fifth stop in a tour that will continue in Washington and Los Angeles through December.
Dele mobilizes in each city and contacts the top African American leaders, organizations, and prominent women for nominations of black males. Some of the honorees in Philadelphia are educator and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill; hip hop artist Chill Moody; State Sen. Vincent Hughes; talk show host Quincy Harris; A. Bruce Crawley, president and principal owner of Millenium 3 Management; and State Sen. Anthony H. Williams.
The morning begins with mentoring and empowerment workshops with students at Overbrook High School, led by some of the honorees, including musician Jeff Bradshaw, Maurice "DJ Aktive" DeLoach, and community leader Kenyatta Bey. In the afternoon a news conference at the Comcast Center will feature the honorees and in the evening, a cocktail reception will be held there at which dress suits for men will be donated to two local organizations, People for People and Menzfit. The initiative has collected 17,000 suits nationwide since its inception.
"The thank-you is not really what a lot of accomplished men look for, they look for the bridge to give back," Dele said. "They want to feel they're leaving a legacy and a footprint. It's the impact."
She knows from experience.
Dele was born in Yeadon to an African American mother who was a teacher and a Nigerian father who was an engineer.
"My father played a role in the interpretation of man's value as a caretaker and as a leader. My father never craved to be recognized," Dele said. "He always congratulated people and was always taking care of others."
Dele studied behavioral health and psychology at New York University. She was able to marry her expertise in human behavior with knowledge of consumer behavior when she started her entertainment, sports and brand marketing corporation, Blueprint Global Group, about 10 years ago.
But the switch from psychology to marketing wasn't easy.
"It was extremely challenging for people to respect me coming from a different industry," said Dele.
Largely, this was because initially she was trying to model her strategies for her agency after others in the field. When she used her psychology background with her marketing goals, she said, she was successfully "able to connect large organizations with the world through philanthropy — that's the heartstrings."
Eventually, Dele was handling event production for artists like Beyoncé, Kevin Hart, and Nigerian afrobeats hit-maker Wiz Kid. Though many call her a brand marketer, she said her motivation is connecting impact and relevance.
The Made Man mission taps into both.
She said that there is a misconception that black men often aren't present and that the community doesn't come together, but "I experience the opposite on every level. I can't buy into it."
Keaton Nichols, host of WURD's The Lounge, a radio show focused on news, politics, pop culture and sports from the millennial perspective, is among the Philadelphia honorees. The 26-year-old said that when he got the news he was being named a "Made Man," he was shocked.
"The idea that other people from other places were taking note of the show was, like, 'Wow, you guys are paying attention and really enjoy it," he said. "It humbled me and made me even more hungry."
Nichols said the initiative is important because it's an opportunity to highlight the black men doing great things for and in their community.
The Made Man "is important for the same reason it's important to have black superheroes — you see yourself as a strong character," he said. "Being in a room full of successful black men shows that I'm not out here on an island, there are other black men doing great things."
For Nichols, a "Made Man" is not necessarily established but "someone who is making something" of his life.
"I know there's some guys in my neighborhood who aren't on the list who are doing it for the community, the culture and the people," he said.
Dele will soon take The Made Man initiative internationally. This month, she will announce the launch of next year's The Made Man Africa, to be held in Ghana. There will be a ceremony for the official announcement in Washington that honors key African leaders and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Dele said it's to bring together African American and African leaders.
"They want to know Africa and Africa wants to know them," she said.
It's all about black men reclaiming their image and brand.
"Until you start writing your own story," Dele said, "you can never own the narrative."