Dee Lanier reconnected with his father five years ago.
Lanier said that while he was growing up, his father was “not a part of the picture.”
Lanier was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, with whom he lived when his mother was deployed overseas by the Army.
When Lanier became a father, he knew he wanted to be a constant, positive presence in his children’s lives.
Lanier, 38, is doing just that, and also striving to make that goal a reality for other men.
Lanier is the executive director of UNCOMMEN, a nonprofit launched in spring 2014. The organization has developed a mobile application to address the problem of absentee fathers in America and to challenge men to become better husbands and fathers.
“The overall goal is to get guys motivated by each other to invest in their wives and their kids,” Lanier said.
UNCOMMEN was the $12,500 second-place winner at this year’s SEED20 competition sponsored by Social Venture Partners. Charlotte-area nonprofit entrepreneurs presented 3-minute pitches and competed for prize money.
UNCOMMEN currently has 3,000 members and an annual budget of $200,000. Men download the app for free and then compete in challenges and track their progress on a leader board, to which they can also invite friends.
Challenges run the gamut from plastering your wife’s car with Post-it notes telling her what you love about her to taking an “epic photo” with your children doing something creative like staging a battle, dressing up in a skirt or participating in a tea party. Members can send each other messages or set up their own challenges, such as one suggested by women Lanier polled to “make dinner happen.”
As Lanier rapped during the 2015 SEED20 competition: “Let me get this point of clarity in. What UNCOMMEN is when men compete against each other and their families win.”
For Lanier, UNCOMMEN represents the synthesis of everything he has done up to this point. Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology with an emphasis on education from UNC Charlotte, Lanier said his goal at the time was to pursue full-time ministry.
He served as a pastoral assistant at Desiring God Community Church in University City, where he met his wife, Stacey, 39, whom he wed in 2004. The couple lives in University City with children Karis, 8; Landis, 5; and twins Ellis and Silas, 4.
Lanier then turned to teaching, starting as a volunteer at Crossroads Charter High School and becoming a full-time teacher pursuing his passions of “working with kids and integrating technology into the classroom.”
He also continued his ministry, serving as a youth director and elder at Christ Central Church. In 2012, he became the technology specialist for the lower school at Trinity Episcopal, where he working in March 2014 when he received an email from a good friend about Merrill Lynch executive Greg Cash’s “vision and dream to challenge men as leaders, husband and dads.”
“It was a very disruptive email,” Lanier said. “I was very comfortable in my role as an educator. But I couldn’t dismiss it.”
Six weeks after receiving the email looking for leadership of the new initiative, Lanier decided to come on board as UNCOMMEN’S executive director.
He said he believes the group not only is a perfect fit for him professionally but personally as well.
“It has led me to think more creatively about how to engage with my family,” he said. “It has elevated my passion to love my wife and be there for my kids.”
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information about UNCOMMEN or to become a member, visit www.uncommen.org.