100 Black Men gala honors mentoring program grads
On Thursday, the 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock will hold its annual Christmas gala at the DoubleTree downtown. It will be a modest affair as these things go — after all, there’s roughly 20 of them, president John Miller says with a shrug.
These 20 will put on a program for perhaps 200 folks or more who’ll be “turned out,” as they say. Last year, then-gubernatorial candidate Asa and Susan Hutchinson joined. Mingling among the ballroom crowd this year will be about two dozen teenage boys in new suits from Fauzio’s.
Some other Christmas season, this gala might come and go with hardly a shiver of the needle gauging social event noise, but this year protests and demonstrations have turned the eyes of the nation on black men everywhere — the national prayer for peace this Christmas season makes mention of Cleveland, New York and Ferguson, Mo.
“We wholeheartedly reject the notion that being a young black person makes you a threat,” Miller says, and “when we walk them through our program, we try to equip them with things, not necessarily to make them less threatening — if people are going to be threatened by you, they’re going to be threatened — but we try to equip them with things that will break that stereotype.”
Last weekend, Miller and a few of the 100 Black Men along with all two dozen in the 100 Academy Mentoring Program put on a pancake breakfast for about 200 parents and children who turned out for a Breakfast With Santa at Martin Luther King Elementary School. After it was served, Miller and a few of the men called the boys together.
“All right, all right, all right. Everybody in? Raise your hand if you’ve already gotten your tickets from Mr. Harris,” Miller said, referring to the Christmas gala.
The boys make up a big part of the program. Along with their new suits, they’ll each receive a leather notebook sleeve with
an individualized letter from one of the men. There’s a certificate of completion from the Academy, as well as a financial gift tucked into one of the pockets.
“These tickets are worth $60 each, OK? So do not lose the tickets. We will feed y’all good. It will be a nice night. We want everyone to be there and looking good.”
Then Miller made his “closing remarks.” The Academy is an eight-week program that meets each Saturday inside the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center. During a 90-minute session, they discuss and consider what success, motivation, trust and other character attributes look like. They welcome guest speakers. One of them this year was French Hill, the congressman-elect for the 2nd District.
“Look fellas, we love you guys, and when we started this program three years ago, our number one job was to make sure that brothers knew that people cared.”
Just before this speech, Miller met in the hall with state Rep. Fred Love , D-Little Rock. Miller is an associate professor of social work at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. His work to date has been on race and ethnicity in America, and one of his specialties is suicide — its indicators and prevention. He was discussing this and some recent grant awards with Love. Among all deaths in the black community, suicide ranks 16th, but among those ages 16-24, it’s third.
“We don’t want these guys ever to have the excuse, ‘No one ever cared.’”
Miller started the Academy with a few boys. With word of mouth and a concerted recruitment effort, the 100 were able to raise that number to about 18 last year, and this year it’s 24.
“I’ll be honest with you, I honestly thought these guys would be on their high horse thinking they’re better than everybody,” said Christopher McCollum, 16, whose mother made his decision to join the Academy for him. “But even though they’re successful, they’re down-to-earth cool people. Because at first I didn’t want to come here. I thought these were going to be some stuck-up people ….”
Role models? Clearly the 100 and its Academy have created a classic Big Brother/ Little Brother dynamic, but neither side used the phrase “role model” explicitly.
“Well, it [may be] for some young black men, but me, I have a role model in my life,” said 15-year-old Braylan Debrow, who says he’d like one day to open his own shoe store. This service was about “getting experience helping out our community and the kids — showing appreciation.”
“I think it’s good to show more [appreciation] than what we are showing.”
And, in so doing, earn some appreciation.
“We teach our young men about success,” Miller says. “Motivation, academic success and trust, but guess what? What does the world need to know about black men? That we have success, that we are motivated, that we do have respect for academics, and trust.”
Historically, the 100 Black Men were some of the most affluent in their respective communities, but, at least here in Little Rock, the substance and the image of it has changed.
“My goodness, man, I wish we had the kind of money as an organization to give each one of these kids $5,000 scholarships, but we don’t.”
What they do have is street cred, not as moguls or stars but real-life success stories. They haven’t riches, but they have concern, and they have time. They offer both.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock associate professor John Miller heads up the 100 Black Men of Greater Little Rock, which hosts its end-of-year gala Thursday, at which the two dozen or so members of the youth academy Miller and others started will...
John Miller (center) says, “We teach our young men about success — motivation, academic success and trust, but guess what? What does the world need to know about black men? That we have success, that we are motivated, that we do have respect for...