Chicago’s Willis Tower, the tallest building in the city, was an appropriate venue for this year’s Waymaker Men’s Summit, where attendees were encouraged to reach higher.
The two-day “Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone for Growth”-themed gathering brought inspirational and educational challenges from leading voices in business, entertainment, media, sports and more. Among those speaking candidly about their experiences and sharing insights were basketball stars Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose, NFL vice president Troy Vincent, presenter and producer Nick Cannon, actors David Mann and Jay Ellis, Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson and branding expert Coltrane Curtis.
In his welcoming comments, summit host and Waymaker founder Louis Carr said that breaking out of your comfort zones was all about growth, which in turn was “the process of developing new skills, attitudes, actions and reactions that can have positive impact on your life and increase your overall well-being.”
Away from the speaker sessions, the summit provided opportunities for attendees to network, take advantage of free styling and headshot services, and relax in a “zen zone” or play in the games room. A separate one-day teen track drew several hundred participants from across the city.
First-timer AJ Zimmerman, an administrator with The Salvation Army in Chicago’s Englewood community, was “blown away” by the event. He thought all the speakers were good but was most impacted by the health session with Dr. Courtney Hollowell and Dr. Dave Montgomery.
“It was not what I came for, but it was exactly what I needed to hear,” he said, noting that he had since scheduled a doctor’s visit. “I have to invest in myself and not just money-wise: I have to invest in my health, mental health, and my future. I have to seek those with wisdom and learn so that I can grow.”
For Monell Petties, hearing Derrick Rose was “a call to action.” He said, “I instantly began to do an evaluation of my goals, my dreams, and my self-perception… Going forward, I have placed a greater demand in myself to shed timidness, confront false humility and to continue to make myself uncomfortable.”
In addition to the content, he appreciated the connections: “To see hundreds of brothers from all walks of life and various age groups, networking and learning together created such a synergy of respect and love that the power of brothers united became tangible.”
At his third summit, Frederick Tolbert, a Chicago media planner, said it was clear the Waymaker vision was “coming to fruition… Each year I’ve attended, I’ve been left with a positive impression and a renewed sense of purpose thanks to the uplifting themes and character-building activities.”
John T. Morrison Jr., a pastor, traveled from St. Pauls, North Carolina, after learning about the summit on social media. “From the moment I walked in, I was blown away at such intentional detail and thought that was put into this event,” he said. “I have already started planning for next year, [and] this time I will not be alone, I plan to bring my friends with me.”
Quentin Richie attended with 20 boys who are part of the Champs Mentoring program in Chicago, where he is a systems coordinator. It was “phenomenal,” he said, “connecting with like-minded men… and being able to openly share ideas and follow up with potential collaborations.”
A LIFETIME HONOR FOR A CIVIL RIGHTS ICON
Civil rights icon Rev. Jesse Jackson was celebrated for his years of leadership and activism with the presentation of the 2023 Waymaker Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Waymaker Awards Dinner, where he was guest of honor.
Announcing the award that drew attendees to their feet in applause, BET President and CEO Scott Mills recalled how as a young boy he had heard the two-time Presidential candidate speak when he and his family had attended a campaign event.
“It was so extraordinarily powerful to see this representation of what our people could be, what we could do, the power of the presence,” Mills told those at the event. “It’s impacted my life profoundly, and it’s impacted so many people’s lives profoundly.” Mills said he was appreciative for Jackson’s “opening so many doors for so many people in our community.”
For Waymaker founder and Waymaker Journal publisher Louis Carr, Jackson epitomized the example of a waymaker. “For decades, I don’t care what industry you’re in,” he said, “whether you’re in finance, whether you’re in entertainment, whether you’re in politics—there’s been one person, the Rev. Jesse Louis Jackson.”
The event also recognized others for their examples of leadership.
(Above) Trey Malcolm Causey received the 2023 Waymaker HBCU MVP award. A senior philosophy major at Morehouse College, where he is an active member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, his contributions were acknowledged in January with an invitation to the White House by Vice President Kamala Harris.
(Above) Kelli Richardson Lawson was presented with the 2023 Waymaker Making a Difference Award for her work in championing the importance of mental health. The long-time marketing executive founded the SonRise Project to help families dealing with teenage and young adult struggles.
(Above) J. Ivy received the 2023 Waymaker Trailblazer Award. The Chicago-based hip-hop poet, who won a Grammy for his spoken word album, The Poet is Set by the Door, expressed his appreciation for the recognition by reciting one of his poems, “Dream Big.”
That wasn’t the only performance of the night. The formal awards celebration, sponsored by Walmart, was brought to a close in stand-up-and-dance style by a set marking hip-hop’s 50th anniversary by one of the scene’s pioneers, Doug E. Fresh (above).
Some of the heroes and highlights of this year’s “Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone for Growth” event:
(Above) NBA great Dwyane Wade
The roadblocks are coming. So instead of being afraid of running into them, prepare yourself for them as much as you can.DWYANE WADE
(Above) Top Gun: Maverick actor Jay Ellis
All growth is uncomfortable. It’s not supposed to be easy… we have to understand that the only way to get on the other side is to go through it.JAY ELLIS
(Above) Taking notes
(Above) Style expert Joseph Hines
(Above) The Chi actor Curtiss Cook
(Above) Listening in to a podcast recording
Do you believe or do you know? Because a lot of people look at it as if it’s the same.DERRICK ROSE
(Above) Basketball great Derrick Rose
What we tolerate, we will not change… The compromises of today become tomorrow’s standard.TROY VINCENT
(Above) NFL vice president Troy Vincent
(Above) Teen summit host Ian Michael Brock with rapper Korporate
(Above) Taking it all in
Showing up for one another, being able to lean on one another, hear from one another, and challenge one another, and call each other out for our behavior, that is the best accountability system we could ever have.BRANDON JOHNSON
(Above) Chicago mayor Brandon Johnson
You cannot be successful unless you are prepared to grow.LOUIS CARR
(Above) Summit host Louis Carr
If we understand who we are… we understand that we don’t have no enemies. My only competition is myself.NICK CANNON
(Above) TV host and actor Nick Cannon
Eventually, you’re going to have to stop lying to the very person you’ve been lying to all your life: yourself.DAVID MANN
(Above) Actor and singer David Mann
(Above) Branding expert Coltrane Curtis
(Above) Dwyane Wade captures a moment
(Above) BET president and CEO Scott Mills with Louis Carr
(Above) Photographer Maya Darasaw offered free professional headshots
(Above) Game time
(Above) Interviewing one of the attendees