100 Black Men offers many city youths a father figure to consult and emulate

October 17, 1992|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Kenneth Davis knows about the lure of the streets. The West Baltimore youth has friends who gave in to temptations of easy money and glittering jewelry and dealt drugs.

"They just seemed to have changed to me," said Kenneth, a quiet and lanky 10-year-old. "Some of them are still friends with me. Not all of them, though. But that's all right."

It's all right, Kenneth says, because he has a friend with whom he can talk "straight up" whenever he needs.

For the last seven months, Kenneth has talked several times a week with Lonnie Carr, a member of 100 Black Men of Maryland, a community service organization in Baltimore whose mission is to help black youths succeed.

Kenneth and Mr. Carr talk about a variety of topics -- school, family, Kenneth's future, how to achieve his goals, whatever else is on the mind of a fifth-grader.

"Sometimes it's not a lot we talk about, but I like just talking to him. He helps me out with a lot things, you know," Kenneth said. "A lot of things [in life] I don't know about, he helps me with."

Members of 100 Black Men -- there are about 70 at this point in Baltimore -- cut across a wide spectrum and include men in government, business, industry and public affairs.

The year-old Baltimore chapter is one of 22 nationwide of an organization that was founded in the early 1970s in New York. New York Mayor David N. Dinkins was a founding member. The Baltimore chapter lists Circuit Court Judge David B. Mitchell as a member.

During the last year, 100 Black Men donated more than $18,000 to various groups in Baltimore, including the Northwood Football League, the Cecil-Kirk Basketball Program on the eastside and the CollegeBound Foundation.

Some money for the group's activities comes from fund-raisers, contributions and grants. But much of it comes out of each member's pocket.

Members often serve as father figures for youths being raised by their mothers or other female relatives in single-parent homes.

"I give up my Saturday morning and some more of my time for this because the climate now is a lot worse than it was when I grew up, and we need it [a group like 100 Black Men] even more," said Donald Rigby, vice president of the Baltimore chapter.

Mr. Carr, a state Mass Transit Administration employee who has been a member of the local chapter since it began, said 100 Black Men tries to reach as many boys -- and not only those who are economically disadvantaged -- as possible.

"Some of the kids the schools have identified as needing assistance because of attitude or education problems," Mr. Carr said. "Our focus is kids that need help. I get a certain amount of satisfaction out of this."

The chapter has adopted Gwynns Falls Elementary School and placed more than a dozen computers in the school's computer lab. Members regularly spend time at the school and meet with the boys' teachers to monitor their progress.

Lewis Richardson, a retired educator and former deputy superintendent in the city public school system, said the chapter works closely with the Gwynns Falls school partly because it has few black male teachers with whom the boys can identify.

"We always read about the black male and how much they're in trouble," Mr. Richardson said. "Many of them need more contact with black males and they don't get it."

"Many of the students are in need of role models to help them in going [on] to high school and college," said Marian Boston, a master teacher at Gwynns Falls Elementary. "They receive a lot of one-on-one attention and are made to feel special -- not special because they're in trouble but special because of the attention they get."

Kenneth Goodman, 10, has seen an adult from 100 Black Men nearly every day since last year.

"I don't think I would be getting into trouble," he said, "but it's good to talk to him because there's always somebody to help me if something goes wrong."

Kenneth said some of his friends get into trouble, and he doubts they would were they associated with a member of 100 Black Men.

"Anybody who has a choice would choose not to mess up. They [100 Black Men] won't let me," Kenneth said.

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