Jonathan Allen is a Boston University School of Law graduate, a co-founder of a non-profit, an entrepreneur — and now is the inaugural Innovator in Residence at BU’s BUild Lab.
At the BUild Lab, he hosts office hours for students and is organizing a speaker series featuring community leaders. The first episode of his speaker series — which explores “the journey of a social entrepreneur,” he said — will be on Nov. 3 at the BUild Lab.
“I’ll make myself available to be a resource and hopefully a source of inspiration for people who are thinking about how to leverage innovation to solve our most pressing problems,” Allen said.
He said students across different fields — like STEM or communications — tend to be inclined toward innovation work. But he wants the BUild Lab’s programs and resources to attract students of all majors on campus.
As Innovator in Residence, Allen will lend his skills for one academic year to share experiences and work on projects with the BUild Lab.
“To me, innovation and being an innovator is being agile, being open to change, being responsive to issues but then getting proactive to the future of what’s possible and how we get there,” Allen said. “All in all, being an innovator is being a problem solver.”
Micaelah Morrill, the director of external relations at Innovate@BU, said she met Allen when he used the BUild Lab for his project Leadership Brainery. She said Allen decided to take on the role so he can share his story and experience with the students.
“I hope that he is an inspiration to students that they can do kind of whenever they want to do,” Morrill said. “I don’t think he sugarcoats anything, but I think he strikes a really good balance of reality and inspiration.”
Allen’s Leadership Brainery, non-profit, works to elevate diverse student leaders into various professional fields by providing them with a network of resources, according to their website. Allen said he and his husband and co-founder Derrick Young Jr. got the idea for Leadership Brainery when they were undergraduates at Grambling State University in Louisiana.
In graduate school, they both noticed they were “the few Black men in our respective programs.”
“That is what caused us to start asking the question to admissions, ‘Why are there not more people from our backgrounds in these competitive postgraduate programs?’” Allen said.
The universities they asked said qualified, diverse individuals just weren’t applying, Allen said. Allen knew that there were qualified diverse applicants out there, he said. They just needed to figure out how to reach them.
And with that, the idea for Leadership Brainery was born.
While Allen was finishing up law school at BU in 2019, he said he decided to run for City Council for Allston and Brighton, or District 9.
“Literally, during final exams, I was preparing for those and taking those exams at the same time that we were going out into the street to get signatures to get on the ballot,” Allen said. “It was a very intense time.”
His campaign was “information-driven,” focusing on the idea of “people lack resources and opportunities when they lack information,” Allen said.
Although he did not win the election, Allen said it was a “transformative experience” because he knew that the issues his campaign focused on would have to be addressed by whoever did win.
Marielis Rosa, a junior at BU in College of Arts and Sciences, met Allen through Leadership Brainery when she discovered his non-profit through UMOJA, Boston University’s Black Student Union chapter. She said Allen has a warm aura about him and has helped her with her legal aspirations.
“He is very hopeful and dedicated to the mission of Leadership Brainery, and that’s honestly what’s giving me hope about my own future as a first generation college student,” Rosa said.
Being a first-generation college student, a Black man and a part of the LGBTQ+ community, he said he has to work harder to “knock down doors” and break down biases from all angles.
“My identity, and my journey has taught me to value different perspectives and to get to know them,” Allen said. “There have been people who would initially discount me because of what my identity is, without ever having taken the moment to get to know me.”
Allen hopes that people will understand that they are all “interconnected.”
“I hope that people will begin to love people across our differences, despite them,” Allen said. “We will begin to open up our minds to become more educated and aware and informed about our different experiences.”