Matthew Manning: Agent of Change

Catalyst for transformation — and Pace e Bene Web Designer Extraordinaire

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By Ken Butigan

Just weeks after starting college in the fall of 2009, Matthew Manning found himself staying up night after night building a nonprofit organization to support vulnerable children around the world who lacked basic human resources.

He had spent the previous summer in Ghana and came away from that experience resolved to help the children he met there thrive.  So, even as he earned a History of Art and Architecture degree at DePaul University in Chicago, he launched the Worldwide Orphanage Relief Coalition (WORC), which built a “WORC-force” of young people to develop a sustainability model that supported marginalized communities across Sub-Saharan Africa. 

It’s this kind of drive – and vision – that has prompted Manning to plunge into one powerful project after another over the past decade, including, most recently, Gumbo, a new media company he co-founded, whose mission is to curate “content and experiences that expand the narrative of Black life.” 

Among its many projects, Gumbo builds websites for nonprofits and businesses.  For the last several months, Manning has been designing and operationalizing Pace e Bene’s new site. We are deeply grateful for his work, in which he has brought his creativity, vision, and passion for justice and nonviolence to the job of creating our new online presence.  At the same time, he has shepherded a related project– helping us to imagine a new logo.  After much discussion and crafting many options, Manning created an icon suggestive of Pace e Bene’s vision and work, one that imagines the world in endless nonviolent motion toward the light of justice and peace.

I first met Manning several years ago at DePaul, where I teach.  I was struck by his wisdom and commitment.  It has been thrilling to follow the many ways he has since put this gumption for a better world into concrete practice.  A peer mentor and project facilitator with the Men of Color Initiative at DePaul, Manning later co-founded “I Speak Chicago,” a two-year visibility campaign focused on lifting up the often under-reported “positivity” in his city.  “In the midst of a highly publicized struggle with violence,” as the project put it, “we are committed to creating a movement fueled by positive media and inspired by the power of art, community, and the spirit of local youth.”  He has also recently signed on as a motivational speaker with WE, a new movement building capacity for social change among youth.

But Manning’s primary focus now is Gumbo Media.  “Gumbo feeds the people,” as its site says.  “Gumbo is communal, diverse, crafted with care, full of flavor, and shares the same Black roots as the community we serve.”  Featuring its Newfolk Journal, 6Creative Studio, Fully Hued Productions, Black Literature Collective and Events, the Gumbo Media site is rich and powerful.

I had a chance to talk with Manning about Gumbo, which he characterized as an alternative to two narratives about black people that typically prevail in dominant popular culture: entertainment celebrity on the one hand or stereotypes that stress violence on the other.  Gumbo holds that these narratives don’t name the reality of most people.  “We don’t see the more nuanced, complex narratives expressed in any way,” Manning says.  “For example, I’m a bi-racial immigrant to this country, who was born in Sweden and immigrated to the US when I was eight years old, where I grew up in Minneapolis. That’s not a narrative that you hear about very much.”

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New logo designed by Matthew’s team for Pace e Bene and Campaign Nonviolence

New logo designed by Matthew’s team for Pace e Bene and Campaign Nonviolence

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The realities are more complex than how they are often portrayed, especially given the violence that the black community has had to deal with.  “There’s been a lot of violence around black lives, and we’ve seen a lot of them killed for reasons that are unfathomable,” Manning stresses.  “We see this violence also in micro-aggressions in the workplace and school – a lot of people not knowing how we think and feel.  Not to over generalize our community, but that’s the case for a lot of people.” 

Gumbo offers a space for diversifying the narrative and, as he underscores, “for people to share their story and see themselves reflected in the way that impacts them emotionally and even spiritually.”

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Gumbo Media is the primary content engine, but Manning and his partners envision a series of interrelated companies and channels, including even a new line of clothing, called Capital B Apparel.  This new, comprehensive enterprise intends to reflect the reality of black people, rather than “cramming ourselves into spaces that were never intended to reflect us.  That is part of it – claiming that power and taking it back for ourselves and saying, ‘We have this power and we recognize it, so let’s put it together and do our own thing and do it the right way.’”

Part of Gumbo’s work is to create great design, as it has for Pace e Bene.  In reflecting on how he went about creating this platform for our thirty-year-old organization as it prepares for the future, Manning says, “When I think of Pace e Bene, I think of a global movement – and, even more, a global community. People coming together under a core ideology.  It’s more than a vision – it’s an ideology, a way of life, a way of thinking and breathing and living. 

“I felt that this needed to be captured in a way that was welcoming, was easy to access regardless of what level of knowledge you’re coming to this platform with—be it someone who’s been involved for three decades, or somebody who is just interested in what this world of nonviolence is.

“For us the primary question was ‘how can we streamline this primary information, that accesses history and theory and scholarship, but to do this in a way that’s not convoluted, that’s not too intimidating or too weighty to make it productive, and that is inclusive of everybody in the community?’  So, it came down to minimalism, to simplicity.  That’s how I see the site – it’s a minimalist approach to a lot of content.  It’s something that is welcoming and accessible.”

We at Pace e Bene are very thankful for the work that Matthew Manning, and his colleagues at Gumbo Media, poured into this effort to create this new platform for fostering a culture of peace and nonviolence.

Ken Butigan