M.E.N. on a Mission
Desmond and Justin Bertrand-Pitts are passionate local mentors.
When it comes to mixing business and pleasure, powerhouse duo Desmond D. and Justin Bertrand-Pitts have managed to find a balance between the two as they lead the charge at M.E.N. Incorporated, an inclusive mentorship program for young men in Houston. The married pair is putting in the work to bring hope and support to countless young men, all while taking on other projects and keeping the spark alive in their own relationship.
The mission of M.E.N. Inc., according to the organization’s website, is simple and effective: “Mentor, Educate and Nurture young men regardless of ethnicity or sexual orientation within available resources allowed.”
“We met online back in the days where you had to wait for people to log back in to respond,” Justin recalls. “I was living in Savannah, Desmond was living in Houston, and we just started communicating online. I was coming to Houston for training for my job, and he picked me up from the airport. The rest is history.”
Today, Desmond works full-time as the CEO of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum while also serving as president and CEO at M.E.N. Inc. Justin segued from the Harris County Mental Health Authority into working full-time as M.E.N. Inc.’s executive director four years ago.
“We started getting so many people approaching us for advice, and decided we wanted to do more. That’s how M.E.N. Inc. really came about.”
“We started getting so many people [from the community approaching us] for advice—everything from housing, resources, food, and other things,” Justin explains. “We were doing the best we could, and decided we wanted to do more. That’s how M.E.N. Inc. really came about.”
The organization meets young men where they’re at in order to help them succeed in and beyond the classroom, and to achieve positive academic, career, and personal goals. “We offer both one-on-one and group mentorship. We are currently vendors for four different school districts within the Harris County Department of Education,” Justin explains. “We go into schools and provide group mentoring there. We also have a community group that meets in the spring and summer. Outside of that, our one-on-one matches happen across the city, year-round.”
“We had to learn to work together,” Desmond adds. “When you put two alpha males with characteristics of a Type A personality together, there can be instances where we [each have strong opinions about] what we should be doing. What we’ve been able to do over the years is really communicate. I tell people that we don’t have arguments or disagreements, we have conversations.”
Those conversations have been a winning strategy for M.E.N. Inc. as the two work together to accomplish the organization’s future goals. “A top priority this year for the board, and in terms of outreach, is to secure more funding,” Desmond emphasizes. “Fundraising is at the forefront of what we do daily. That’s a large part of what we’re going to be working on this year. Also, we always need mentors. That’s obviously a large component of what we do.”
As if they didn’t have enough on their plates, the two also lead an inclusive ministry at Freedom Church. “We recently joined in [the work of] creating a safe space for people to come together and worship without being judged or looked at funny,” Justin explains. “A lot of times, the church world isn’t so kind to the LGBTQIA community, so we create opportunities for people in Houston to have a safe space.”
And outside of work, the couple prioritizes each other and their married relationship. “We believe in a hard 9:00 p.m. cutoff time in our house. That is typically the time when we turn off computers and phones,” Justin says. “We continue to do date nights. We’ll go and try new restaurants, and we love finding new places to go, experiencing new cultures, and taking trips.”
Their love for one another, and the ambitious goals they have for all of their outreach projects, will undoubtedly lead them to continued success.
“My favorite part of working with Justin is the fact that we can identify and understand the other’s point of view, and agree to disagree,” Desmond says. “We understand that we’re not right all the time. The fact that we can have these conversations, understand each other, and come to an agreement shows how much power we have, and how much belief we have in each other. That’s probably my favorite part.”
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