100 Black Men of America began in New York City in 1963 with the motto "What They See is What They'll Be." The Coastal Carolina Chapter launched in 2008-and the group is hosting a celebratory Awards & Recognition Breakfast on Saturday, July 14 at 9:00am at Shell Island Resort.
Admission to the Breakfast is free-but organizers do hope to inspire community support for the ongoing work. The keynote speaker is The Honorable Judge James H. Faison, III and Rhonda Bellamy will serve as Mistress of Ceremonies.
Two founding members of the Coastal Carolina Chapter, David Cheek (now President) and Nick Rhodes, joined us. Listen above and see our extended conversation below. RSVP to Nick at 910-256-0281 or to John Battle from the Development Committee at 910-262-8208. If you decide to attend last minute and haven't RSVP'd--come anyway. They want to share this work with as much of the community as possible.
David: I'm currently the Chapter President for the 100 Black Men of Coastal North Carolina. Prior to that, I was one of the founding members.
Nick : I'm a member of the organization and I have been a member since the founding back in 2008.
Gina: 100 Black Men of America- it was founded in 1963. Can you tell me about the impetus for its creation in New York?
David: Well, the impetus was to develop something that could help inspire and develop young people in the inner cities of New York, per se in particular. So as everyone had read, it was composed of a number of, business owners and, and industry leaders. In particular, the once mayor of New York, David Dinkins is one, actually Jackie Robinson was another one, and there was several others and they just came together and thought that the, we have a lot of underserved youngsters who are in some cases never really leave the community. You never know that there's a better way. They go to school, they go home, they go to the gym, they go home. They go downstairs to hang out, because most of the units in the city were, were apartments and so beyond that they really knew nothing. And so they thought they could introduce them some to some new things which they then organized, pulled it together and began the journey.
Nick: I think part of the success of our organization here in the community is that, while we don't currently have any ladies who are members of the organization, we do have females who are mentees. And they wanted to join by requests simply because they had heard of the organization and they wanted to be a part of it and they have really, really done some amazing things.
Gina: That's so interesting. So some girls wanted to come in.
Nick: It is. And we would love to have female mentors be members of the organization because we take trips with the youngsters. We visit colleges and universities and we go to the international convention each year and we take mentors with us. And each case, we have to have a female escort for our young ladies and enforcement. We've had a parent who would volunteer to go along and chaperone the young ladies. And of course they go at the expense of the organization. And, but we are grateful to them that they will take time out of their schedules to go with us to, to convention and a chaperone the young ladies.
Gina: At the same time, isn't there something that's very specific about young men, black young men right now that needs focus?
David: Well, I think it's right now and, and years past. It continues to be a lot of young men, in particular young black men, they sort of look for a role model now. Sometimes the role model that pick is not the best choice and would perhaps lead them down the wrong path. But if they really are looking and interested- and a lot of them become very involved with this studies, but they need to figure out where do they go from the studies. So having someone who's perhaps come through the same path as they have, someone in their life sort of sort of rung a bell for them and showed them there was some other ways and some other things. For instance, in New York City, so many things that happen in New York City that's on the world view is below 80th street.
Most African American families live above 110th street. So the kids have very few reasons if any, to go any further south from there so they don't see it. They might suddenly with the, the, the creation of, of the Internet and things like that, they can see it but they don't quite know how to get into it. And so as the motto says, "what they see is what they can be." And so that's where we come in from various backgrounds and experiences and we just talk about some very basic things. And growth is based on you're picking up information and continuing to build on that and recognizing the difference between right and wrong. We can all go the wrong way, but some of us know how to detour sooner than others.
Nick : Yeah. As David said, the organization began in New York for the reason stated. But now the organization has grown internationally and with their chapters and the Caribbean and the United Kingdom and there are over 100 chapters and more than 10,000 members. So the a success of the organization speaks for itself.
David: It’s to sort of broaden their view of the world. They can see things now on TV. They can experience obviously in film they have the Internet they can work with, but it's, it's all distant. So we want to put them within the environments of people who have been relatively successful, who have seen things in several different lights, who’ve worked and beenconnected with a lot of different personalities and and folks from different parts of the world. It became more of a one on one kind of development session situation for them. So that sort of experience is the things that we share with our young people
Gina: And the thing about the Internet and tv and everything else is that there is so much, so much bad there that in terms of, “oh, I'm going to like look up the museum” ... not going to happen. Unless there's some prior experience. The first place that that children are lured into is not the stuff that is any good for them. So, they need a little something. Let me ask you this, this program compared with let's say a big buddy program, this one is focused on the African American community. What are some of the unique and specific, just relevant to African-American boys that needs to, that you can provide to them that say a big buddy program wouldn't or other kinds of outreach would not?
Nick : Well, this program, like I said, it was started initially for young men and a lot of the young men don't know what success looks like. And they don't have positive role models in their lives. Iff you ask them what they would like to be when they grow up, almost to a person they'll say, I want it to be an athlete. I want to be in the NFL. I want to be in the NBA. I want to be like Mike. So we tried to show the young men and now women that their success outside of athlete athletics and most of the successful people are not athletes. And that there's a path to a successful life outside of athletics. And as to our chapter here, we started in high school, at Hoggard High School, and we had some young men who were successful and almost to a person who went on to four year college and universities.
And then we refocused and said maybe we should start in middle school where the youngsters are really beginning to form and get opinions about what the world looks like. Because I was on the school board and we find that youngsters who are in elementary school a very, very eager to learn. And they're very impressionable. By the time they get to middle school. That transition starts to take place. So I think that void is … that’s where we can really help with that void and give them some positive role models for positive influence in their lives. So then they will continue as they get into high school and onto college, if they decide to go to college, and have a successful life.
David: One of the things that sometimes we can overlook and is It's not particular to African American families, but a lot of other families out there. It's in, certainly some of these urban areas, they're struggling as much as a lot of other people, but what they tend to not have is perhaps a male at home. And you know, as much as the mother wants to provide support and develop them and see that they do the right thing, it's just as from a mother's perspective. And so that's one of the things that we thought and felt about it was, it was felt in the beginning and certainly continues, is to provide that male role model into their lives to try and get them into the habit to say, hey, if you get into a situation, here's my number, call me. You know, you can talk to you one of your buddies. And what they might tell you is not necessarily the thing you want to do. So if want, call. If you find yourself in a situation where you need a little coaching right now, your kind of on the edge here, that's okay. Call me, and we can talk about it and perhaps make a better decision.
Nick : And in addition to the mentors as a part of how our organization is structured, we have a program at Wilson Middle School and Leland Middle School. And this year hopefully we will expand to Virgo. And so trying to incorporate as many youngsters as we can to be a part of our program. And we look at just what can we offer. We have our Saturday Academy and this is for a high school students and we bring in people maybe like yourself to speak to our youngsters on Saturday and we have some very good support from our community and people who are professionals who have achieved a lot of success, like judges and lawyers and county commissioners and TV personalities, bankers that come and speak about our youngsters and let them know that there are very successful careers that they can pursue as long as they keep their grades up, stay out of trouble, and have a good character. So we were very proud of the support we've gotten from our community partners on this program.
A lot of people that come and speak to our Saturday Academy who are in different careers are in our community, are local people. And so they can relate to our youngsters on a personal level from that standpoint. You know, we had a judge from Brunswick County and we have the bankers here in New Hanover County in Wilmington and we had a county commissioner who is from here to speak about our kids. And not lecture our kids, but just kinda tell them what's available to them and how they can achieve it.
David: We all come from different backgrounds. I grew up in New York. I grew up in Harlem in the tenement, I went to an elementary school that was pretty good. I went to junior high school that was on the other edge, eventually had to close it. In those two institutions, if you will. there were some influences from outside of the community. In junior high school, it was an all boy junior high school, and our sister school was probably six or seven blocks away. There was a bank. Interesting. I laugh because I actually became a banker, but nothing related to what I learned there. But nonetheless, there was a bank there, it was called the Bowery Savings Bank. The fact that one of the senior officers there was black, h decided and he got the okay to reach out and grab a half a dozen students from each of the schools, these junior high schools and bring them over to the office and sit down with a very loose agenda. Let's have some cookies, some sodas, let's sit around and talk. But the other piece was, come on in and see what this world looks like behind that teller window in this space. I mean, they never told us what they were doing. And it was a comfortable situation. And from that, I don't know how much of that pushed me at some point later on, but it led me to understand, you know, that someone cared. Someone was trying to do something. Exactly what, other than introducing us to other people there and introducing us to some of our ladies from our sister school that we'd never met, but now we met.-that was an interesting point in my life.
Gina: It's easy for kids in general, but especially kids who are kind of closed off from the world or who don't have parents who are confident about the world to think, oh, the bank, that's somewhere where I can't go. I don't belong there. And to feel that I can go here, I can walk in here, I can see what's here, I understand what's here, there's nothing magic here. Like, just to feel a part of that. That's great.
So you're celebrating five, graduating students. Young men and girls and girls mixed. What is it?
David: We have two graduating young ladies. Yes. And, and three young men.
Gina: And then also you're celebrating some middle school students. Twenty.
David: They'll be going to high school and we're celebrating that, that achievement with them and given them a more of a grand sort of a process it can be a part of. And, and you know, we've, we've injected a lot of interesting insights to them. We've taken them places that they perhaps would never go during this particular period of their life. Some of them in the very beginning, we had one youngster when we took them on a trip for our annual meeting had never been out of Brunswick County, which is, it just seems odd. And so when he crossed the border, South Carolina was like a whole new world. Georgia-oh my gosh. So you kind of like almost forget about that in some situations. And you know, you never know which kids. So we started talking and maybe we'd have to create a sort of a worksheet on just determining how many young people have never gone two states away from his state.
Nick : The event we're having on the 14th out at Shell Island at 9:00 in the morning. It's to a reward these young people who have graduated and also recognize the youngsters, the 20 youngsters you referred to who are finishing elementary school and now they are moving on to high school and to recognize them for their achievement and also to let the community know what we're doing. We are been working at this, like David said, since 2008 and uh, we are not as widely known in the community as we would like. So we want to have a celebration, let the community know what we're doing and they can become a part of it if they like. And to see our youngsters and what they have done- we are very proud of them and I'm sure the community will be as likely as proud once they see what they've done.
Gina: And this is a breakfast.
Nick: Yes it is. And there's no charge for the breakfast. And we'd like to have people come if they wish. We'd like to have you contribute to the organization if you desire, but there's no fee, no charge to attend the breakfast.
Gina: And do you have an RSVP, do you want people to tell you if we're, if they're coming?
David: Our website is sort of under construction, but we do have a facebook page. We certainly will make some numbers available.
Nick: It’s at Shell Island Resort, 2700 North Lumina Avenue. And those who would like to attend as a result of hearing this interview, they can call me at 910-256-0281, or the my phone number is nine one zero, two five, six, zero, two eight, one or the person who's in charge of our Development Committee, John Battle, and you can reach him at 910-262-8208. We'd love to have people come to see our youngsters and support the organization, I'm sure they will be impressed, not necessarily by the organization but by our young people. We are very proud of them. I'm sure the community will be proud. Everybody should come, yourself included.
David: Everybody. And, again, he said we were celebrating the great things that they've done. We're putting this on so that others can hopefully have a chance to see it and appreciate it. And if they are so inclined, we would certainly love any financial support we can get. For instance, we take the kids to the annual convention. On average, it's about $1,500 per kid. Now, we've been doing this for three, four, five years…so it's a kind of thing. And, and this has been for so many youngsters just an eye opening experience, something they just can't stop talking about. Some of the things that we realized-some of our kids will say, I'm going to this thing mom-and nobody thinks about, well, it's a sort of a banquet, you need a jacket. Oh, you're going to need to carry more than what you're wearing. So we've actually dug in and managed to get a couple of kids' jackets, suitcases, and an air ticket.
Nick: And our guest speaker will be Judge James Faison who is a district court judge here in Pender and new Hanover County. He has done a lot to support young people throughout his career and he's a very inspiring speaker. So those people in the community who may have heard of him, I never get tired of hearing him speak because he's such a dynamic speaker and he can relate his experience as a prosecutor and being on the bench to dealing with young people who may have kind of strayed off the path a little bit. And he's a local person that grew up in pender county been here all of his life, other than the time he was in college and law school.
Gina: And also Rhonda Bellamy is going to be there.
Nick: Yes, and she's going to be Mistress of Ceremonies, and Rhonda is always good, you know, she's Executive Director of the Arts Council now and she used to have a radio program. She's really good at working the audience in terms of why we're here and keeping things flowing. And she's really great and we are grateful to her that she has volunteered her time to do this for us.
Gina: So, why is it called 100 Black Men?
David: Well, the black men is because-that's an easy one. But why 100? I'm not really sure of why 100 other than that was probably a target.
Speaker 4: Like it's a number. 100.
David: Yeah, it's, it was a target, we want to have at least 100 men and to do things we want to do. Well they are now over 10,000.
David: So it's, it's, it's been, it's worked … I’m going to try something soon, I’m going to send David Dinkins a note and find out, what's the significance of 100? Why wasn’t it 50?
Gina: Or a thousand?
Nick: Why wasn't it changed once they reached target?
Gina: Keep pushing it up?
Nick: But if it isn't broke, don't fix it. [Laughter]
David: So who knows? But yeah, that's a good point.