Cynthia E. Griffin- | 1/23/2008, 5 p.m.
The Los Angeles chapter of 100 Black Men recently hosted Essence editorial director Susan Taylor at an event to launch the Los Angeles portion of a campaign the magazine created to recruit one million mentors for America's children. The effort is called L.A. Cares.
The partnership between Essence and 100 Black Men of America was forged by the group's former national chair Tommy Dortch, who saw their association as a natural fit because the four tenets of the organization's "four for the future effort" are education, mentoring, economic development, and health and wellness.
In Los Angeles, the mentoring effort started about the same time Essence began its national campaign.
"We were active in the other three components but not really active in mentoring," explained Los Angeles chapter chair Anthony Asadullah Samad. To rectify that, the L.A. group, partnered with Audobon Middle School to select and mentor 25 young men.
"If they stay with us from sixth grade through to college, we will make sure they have the financial resources to go to college," said Samad of their mentees.
The young men were selected by school officials and come from all levels of the educational spectrum ranging from "A" to those at risk of dropping out or those living in foster care.
"We meet with the parents, and tell them this is the kind of commitment we want you to give your child," explained Samad, adding that the program requires students to read one book per month and stay on top of schoolwork.
Mentors are responsible for taking the boys out once a week individually and once a month as a group.
Currently all of the mentors are members of 100 Black Men, but Samad said they are looking at ways to expand the mentoring aspect to reach as many young men as possible.
While their mentoring program has just begun, 100 Black Men of Los Angeles are not new to the world of youth development. One of their best-known programs--Young Black Scholars (YBS)--is all about the business of grooming and supporting black youth. It has also become the national model for chapters around the world.
Created in response to a 1983 California Post Secondary Education Commission study that pinpointed the low number of African American students who graduated high school eligible to apply to the University of California, YBS has for the last 21 years sent more than 19,000 youth to colleges across America, said Samad.
The schools they have attended include Brown, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Morehouse, Stanford, Yale, as well as the University of California.
The organization works with colleges and more than 170 public, private, and charter high schools (as well as home schooling organizations) in the Greater Los Angeles area to provide help that ranges from understanding the admissions process to connecting with people, who can direct them to financial aid sources. YBS also offers students more than 40 workshops, seminars, and conferences during the academic year. All of these activities are conducted on local college campuses to give young people a sense of what the higher education environment is like.
The workshops are presented by officials from the colleges including admissions counselors, professors, and others, which gives YBS scholars the added advantage of getting to know some of the people who could actually be processing their admissions applications.
The emphasis in the program is on producing students who are competitive enough to be accepted at any four-year college or university in the nation, explained Patricia Rillera, executive director of YBS.
"On average, we work with about 1,200 students a year," said Rillera, explaining that while youngsters can enroll beginning in the ninth grade, the organization has relationships with middle school principals that result in recommendations of youth who would be good candidates for YBS.
To be eligible for YBS, a young person must have at least a 3.0 grade point average or be highly motivated and have at least a 2.7 GPA. The young people who are below 3.0 must agree to bring the GPA up within one semester.
At 3.0, Rillera called these motivated students but not competitive, and that is the part YBS works to change.
"To be competitive you have to be well rounded. We take them through public speaking. They have language arts where they learn how to write, so when they write a statement (for the college applications), it makes sense to the reader. We also have an algebra institute where we hone their math skills. And we have a summer leadership program, where they learn to be leaders in their schools."
The executive director said YBS stays on top of the weaknesses that studies say African American children have academically and develop curriculum that addresses and strengthens those areas.
Included as part of the four to six hours they must commit to the program each week, youngsters also get involved in volunteer opportunities. They earn college credit for their participation in YBS, and they get to participate in more socially-oriented programming.
"We have teen summits, and we talk about anything that comes up around etiquette and protocol as responsible citizens," explained Rillera. In some summits, the students are divided into same-gender groups and the men will talk to the boys about subjects such as dating and how to approach a young lady.
Girls are taught by the women how a young lady should be treated.
"We talk about how to be socially responsible students; and how to carry themselves like a king or queen," Rillera added.
At a summit held last weekend, YBS brought in a subject matter expert to discuss the history and use of the "n" word.
Another activity that YBS involves its scholars in is the 100 Black Men National Black History Bowl that happens each year at their conference.
"The L.A. chapter takes about three to five kids per year. . . there are documents that the national office says they will take information from. We extend an invitation to all of our student population, and then we have a local competition called the Black History Super Quiz. The winner of the local competition is who we take to the national."
And the Los Angeles chapter has been a dominant force in this event, pointed out Rillera proudly. "We've been the reigning champions for the last three years, and have taken the championship many years before that."
Another YBS activitiy includes trips to colleges around the state, and then the organization connects with Black College Tours that takes students on tours to the historically black colleges.
While the name says YBS, Rillera said the organization does not exclude any groups, and has had many different people participate over the years.
Anyone interested in finding out about the program can attend their orientations in September. Just visit www.youngblackscholars.com to find out the date and location.
According to its president, the Los Angeles chapter of 100 Black Men is the third oldest affiliate of an organization born in 1963 in New York.
A group of concerned African American men from various walks of life began to explore ways of improving conditions in their community, and eventually adopted the name 100 Black Men as a sign of solidarity. The way they chose to ensure the future of the community was to focus intensely on youth development.
Those initial members included former New York Mayor David Dinkins and the late baseball great Jackie Robinson.
Twenty years after its founding and spurred by the creation of chapters in New Jersey, St. Louis, Atlanta, the San Francisco/Oakland, area as well as Sacramento, the organization began talks to establish a national group. Four years later those plans came to life as 100 Black Men of America, Inc.
Since that time, the group has expanded internationally with chapters in Nassau, Bahamas; Goree Island, Senegal; U.S. Virgin Islands; and London, England. There are currently 105 chapters with more than 10,000 men who work with more than 100,000 youth annually in development and mentoring programs.
And since that first group formed, the mission has not changed: "100 Black Men of America, Inc. seeks to serve as a beacon of leadership by utilizing our diverse talents to create environments where our children are motivated to achieve, and to empower our people to become self-sufficient shareholders in the economic and social fabric of the communities we serve."
The organization connected with Essence to extend their community service activities even further.
Essence Cares is a call to action for every able African American adult to take under their wing a vulnerable young person, which costs nothing, Taylor writes in the explanation about the campaign at www.essence.com. The effort urges people to join trusted mentoring organizations in the community or to gather friends together and mentor at-risk youngsters.
To get more information on 100 Black Men Los Angeles, call (323) 294-7444 or visit www.100bmla.org. To find out about the Essence Cares L.A. program, visit www.essence.com/essence/emf/essencecares/.