On 27 January, 2017, social media networks were flooded with reports that Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who Emmett Till allegedly looked at, and spoke to, admitted she lied. Sixty-two years after Till’s murder, Donham, who was largely in hiding since her husband and brother’s trial, had a change of conscience. Since as far back as America’s founding, black men have been, and continue to catch hell (e.g. Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Laquan McDonald). The question is ‘why’?
Founded in 1963, 100 Black Men of America, Inc. (“The 100”) believe the answer is the lack of engaged role models. The organization actively engages under-served youth in their communities. The 100’s motto, “What They See Is What They’ll Be,” reflects the organization’s focus on both mentorship and youth engagement. The 100 specifically focus on four pillars for their mentoring: education, health & wellness, leadership development and economic empowerment.
Currently, The 100 boasts over 10,000 members, and 71 chapters (including two international chapters), and features such notable members (and founders) as former New York City mayor David Dinkins and baseball legend Jackie Robinson. Since its founding, The 100 has grown organically. Chapters are cultivated by individuals interested in creating a chapter and according to President and CEO Brian Pauling “All of our members are volunteers. They spend a lot of time with marginalized youth. There’s a need, and we want to meet that need.” Despite the name, the organization’s commitment extends beyond black youth. “We unapologetically focus on black males,” said Pauling. “But we also mentor all ethnicities and genders.” Pauling says that The 100 are focused on changing the narrative of black men – particularly in the U.S. “What you see are images of black men not taking care of their kids. Images of black men as drug dealers. Uneducated, violent,” stated Pauling. While these images may have impact on the community, there is also impact on the black men. According to The Opportunity Agenda’s October 2011 ‘Media Representations and Impact on the Lives of Black Men and Boys’ report, scholars confirmed negative portrayals of black men have negative impact on black men in society, especially when the portrayal is generated by a ‘black source’. But there’s another story Pauling and The 100 want to share.
“We want to share the narrative of professionals with families, long marriages and philanthropic hearts. We want to share the stories of black men who give millions in time, dollars and resources to the nation. Helping people see that is critical both domestically and internationally. The image of black men is shaped by what people see in the media. You change that by working with the community. We want to guide and create more men that people see.”
In the U.S., the necessity and need for The 100 is clear. If you need statistics: A report published by the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute shows that, in 2014, unemployment for 20-to-24 year old black men in Chicago was 47 percent, compared to just 20 percent for Hispanic, and 10 percent of white men in the same age group. The ‘Black Lives Matter: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males’ showed that in 35 states and the District of Columbia, Black males were at the bottom of four-year high school graduation rates; and Harvard sociologist Bruce Western’s book “Punishment and Inequality in America” notes that only 34 percent of black high school dropouts were employed, compared to 60 percent of white dropouts.
The challenges of The 100 also extend internationally.
“Our international chapters are seeing the exact same thing: discrimination because of skin color, income; and dollars being directed only at those with wealth and power. These are universal issues regardless of whether you’re in the U.S. or in the U.K.” Pauling continued by noting that “in these areas, there’s always a need regardless of where you are in the world – the need for financial literacy, entrepreneurial capital, health and wellness.”
Pauling’s assertions are correct: According to the 2009 UK Wealth and Assets survey, black (Caribbean and African) households in the U.K., on average, averaged three and 14 times less asset value (respectively) than white households. Prostate Cancer UK reports that black men in the U.K. are three times more likely to get prostate cancer; and although blacks represent only 2.8 percent of the British population, they represent 11 percent of the prison population according to Prison Reform trust research. The 100 are focused on reaching black youth wherever a need exits. Under Thomas W. Dortch, Jr., 3rd national chair, the organization specifically focused on creating and expanding internationally. Currently, there are London and Turks and Caicos chapters, submissions for Germany, and reactivation of a Birmingham, U.K. chapter being vetted.
While international chapters are emerging, the rise in international travel and expatriate activity create unique opportunities.
“Ban together, contact The 100, let us know you have that interest and work through the process to get a chapter started,” urged Pauling.
Alternately, Pauling encourages more tactical engagement. “Support financially, give where you can. Come to an event. Have conversations about the work The 100 are doing. The issues The 100 address are universal – financial literacy, economic empowerment, leadership development, the need for education. There’s a far greater need than current chapters can service. We need to see people getting involved and making the issues in the community their own and being involved. It affects all of us.”