Chris Rutherford recalls a time growing up in Detroit when his house was the safe haven for children and families in the neighborhood. It was a place where people could hang out or get a hot meal if they didn’t have one to go home to themselves.
“My mom was like a mother to so many children that weren’t her own. She always had a spirit of giving and I think that played a huge role in my life. And my father was a scoutmaster at our church, so his spirit also influenced me in a big way,” says Rutherford, who now serves as a program director for the Michigan College Advising Corps at the University of Michigan’s Center for Educational Outreach.
Through his role at the MCAC, Rutherford’s mission is to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underrepresented students entering and completing higher education in the state of Michigan.
Long before stepping into his role at U-M, his parents planted a seed that helped Rutherford’s own sense of compassion and kindheartedness blossom into a lifetime of service and community action.
His hard work was recently honored by the White House staff and President Barack Obama, as Rutherford was one of 62 men associated with the BMe Community to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award, given annually by the Corporation for National and Community Service.
BMe Community Detroit is the local chapter of a national nonprofit organization made up of a network of people who are committed to building caring, prosperous communities inspired by black men.
BMe Community provides recognition, funding and networking opportunities to black men who are building sustainable economic programs, and it’s where the bulk of Rutherford’s volunteer work is done.
Aside from BMe, he has volunteered for various organizations, serving as a mentor while helping to clean vacant lots in the city of Detroit.
Rutherford currently serves as the president of the board of directors for Broadside Lotus Press, the oldest publisher of African American poetry in the country. There, he coordinates free community activities such as community-based writing workshops and cultural events for youth and adults.
As a BMe Community Leader, Rutherford and Broadside Lotus Press have launched “Black Genius in the 21st Century,” which aims to provide young men with the cultural capital necessary for success in post-secondary education.
The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes, celebrates – and holds up as role models – Americans who are dedicated to making a positive impact as committed volunteers. Award winners must meet a minimum standard of volunteer service hours during a 12-month period or cumulative hours earned over the course of a lifetime.
“It’s wonderful to be recognized on this level for the work that I do. At the end of the day, it’s all about the difference I make in my community,” Rutherford said.
“Hearing people in my community talk about the work I do with the different organizations is the best feeling and the greatest reward for me.”