100 Black Men I.E. Mentors Local Youth
By Dianne Anderson
Kids with the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire are drilling down on some of the toughest issues of the day, and keeping up with constitutional wrangling to rival some of the most popular political pundits.
They can spot the many twists and turns of the democratic process that, at times, even stumps the grown ups.
“They do. In fact, they’re the ones that invite the questions that we try to avoid,” laughs Keith Willis, president of the 100 BMIE.
Willis, also an attorney, said the youth are grasping complex notions of impeachment, and they understand the constitution. Recently, the group welcomed a guest speaker who came out to cover voter the controversial suppression of the 53,000 votes that ended in a loss for Stacie Abram for Georgia Governor.
The kids held their own, bantering other hot button issues around disenfranchisement.
A few weeks ago, they held their second nonpartisan Democracy Day in collaboration with Jack and Jill of America Inc. Pomona Area Chapter and the Saturday Academy.
Willis said they looked to broaden the conversation, giving students some context for the things they hear everywhere on the news lately.
“We spoke on the effects of the impeachment,” he said. “We talked about the right to vote, disenfranchisement of voters, and things that we in the community need to look out for.”
The group is now calling on parents to get their students into the great free programming of the 100 Black Men of the Inland Empire.
Their Saturday Academy is held at Cal Baptist University, focused on mentoring for African American boys from middle school through high school. Their after-school program is held at Chemawa Middle School, a part of the Riverside Unified School District.
Set tentatively for February or early March, the gentlemen are co-sponsoring the annual Black History showcase with Jack and Jill of America Pomona chapter. Willis said it’s become a great annual event, and opportunity for students to give speeches based on their favorite civil rights heroes.
Along with their many offerings, last summer the chapter started its scholarship program, and now preparing the criteria for essay competitions. Last month, he said that the energy was high at the 34th Annual national “The 100” event where hundreds of chapter leaders converged in Georgia.
All chapters develop their own approach for the youth based on the local need, but he said there is always something new and inspiring to take home from the national event.
“It was good to be around other chapters, and to realize that some issues we think might be unique to our chapter are actually ubiquitous,” he said.
One hard and fast rule for all chapters is that “the 100” gentlemen regularly suit up. For special occasions, their young men are also required to dress their best, such as on their recent field trip to the San Bernardino Symphony to enjoy Maestro Anthony Parnther, one of the rare few African American conductors in the nation.
Between the 100 BMIE’s after school programs and the Saturday Academy, they regularly serve 25-30 middle and high school students. Some are strong academically, and others may be a little behind or have behavioral difficulties, but Willis said that all of their students excel through the program.
“Two of our students presented at our annual gala in October. They literally blew the house down in terms of how they have been positively affected by our programs,” he said.
Through the partnership at Cal Baptist University where they hold classes, some students want to go on to college, but many lean toward entrepreneurialism. The youth are getting more exposure to STEM activities, and recently completed an exciting solar robotics project at the Saturday Academy.
Willis, a former social studies teacher, said it’s still thrilling to see students engaged in the learning process. When he first started practicing law, he remembers connecting with colleague, Willie Williams, former president of BMIE, who invited him to be part of their group.
“I found that I needed more interaction with my people. I asked where are my people?” he said, adding that before then, he hadn’t heard of “The 100.”
But from the first moments with the group, he knew he was home. Fostering relationships between brothers was what he wanted to be part of.
“It’s absolutely free,” he said. “We have a really good team, and new members. We’re still going strong.”
For more information, parents are encouraged to contact the chapter through their website at www.100bmie.org