100 Black Men chapter shuns excuses, focuses on the positive

Pity those young African-American males growing up in single-parent homes in impoverished neighborhoods of high crime, gangs and failed schools.

What chance do they have? No wonder so many end up on the streets, dead or in jail, right?

Hogwash, says Anthony Williams, president of 100 Black Men of Greater Kansas City.

“Too many make excuses,” Williams said. “My grandpa didn’t talk about what we didn’t have. He talked about what we did have and told me to make it work.”

His group doesn’t want to hear excuses. Since forming the local chapter five years ago, Williams, who earned an MBA from Rockhurst University and works in management and technology, and other members have mentored teens to stay in school, study, live healthy lives and pursue dreams.

“The only thing a lot of these kids need is a positive African-American male in their lives,” Williams said.

That is the mission of 100 Black Men, nationally and in chapters around the country.

The overall idea was born in New York nearly 50 years ago with a group of African-American men concerned about ways to improve conditions in their communities. Successful in their own lives — CEOs, business leaders, professionals and educators, they knew they needed to intervene early in the lives of the young men they would need to pass the torch to later.

Early members included future New York Mayor David Dinkins and sports great Jackie Robinson.

To show solidarity, they chose the name: 100 Black Men Inc.

Over time, chapters popped up in New Jersey, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and elsewhere.

In 2006, after attending the group’s national leadership conference in Miami, several Kansas City men formed a chapter here. Later this month, as part of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, Thomas Dortch, chairman emeritus of the 100 Black Men group, will speak in Kansas City.

Certainly, King’s message of equal rights and education is as relevant today as when he died in 1968.

“We tell kids you have to keep moving forward — and they don’t have to face the guns and dogs like Dr. King did,” Williams said.

100 Black Men is not a club in which a fat check buys good standing. Too easy. Members must attend half the monthly meetings, serve on a committee and participate in service activities.

Tyrone Bridgewater was attending Operation Breakthrough, a midtown child care center, when he became a “mentee” of the group. He was 12 or so at the time, his mother had a hard time finding work and much of the care of his siblings fell to him.

He easily could have gone down a bad path. But he bought in to his mentor’s talk of working hard and staying focused. Now a senior at Hogan Prep, he is headed to college next year to play football.

“They kept after me to stay positive as a young, black male,” Bridgewater said. “I know they make a difference in my life. I’m more organized. I save money. I want to do things with my life. I see it every day. I live it every day.”

Those words please Williams. But he acknowledges there are too many teens like Bridgewater out there.

“We can’t get them all. But every one that we do get, we can change a life.”