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100 Black Men help boys succeed

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by Janell Ross
Tennesseean

Statistically, the odds are grim.

Black men seeking work are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their white counterparts, according the National Urban League’s 2007 annual report. Black men are nearly seven times more likely than white to be incarcerated, according to the most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And black boys born as recently as 2005 can expect life spans 6.2 years shorter than white boys born the same year, according to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This sort of data makes improving the lives of black boys an essential part of what Adrian Granderson, president and CEO of 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee, sees as his organization’s job.

“What we started…it is more than a program. It was and is an imperative,” Granderson said.

Leader is stepping down

Granderson, 32, who has served as the organization’s leader for the last 13 years, will step down at the end of this month. Granderson has spent the last week preparing for the group’s annual gala — which helps to cover the cost of 100 Black Men’s programs, scholarships and much of just over $500,000 budget.

In the days leading up to tonight’s event, Granderson stopped to reflect on his tenure and the organization’s impact.

In 1991, the nonprofit identified nearly two dozen fifth-grade Ross Elementary boys in Metro Nashville. The organization promised to offer the young men mentoring, group academic enrichment, character education and exposure to social, cultural and career options until their high school graduations in 2003.

By 1997, the organization had taken another group under its wing, 50 seventh- and eighth-graders due to graduate high school in 2003 and 2004. And, in 2003 the organization “adopted” a third group, 116 fifth-grade boys from every Metro Nashville middle school.

James Cooper was one of those boys. Cooper, 16, a sophomore at Martin Luther King High School, has dreams of becoming an engineer or architect. He has a 3.5 GPA, but he said he needed the 63 members of 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee and its program.

“Having access to a group of men, successful black men, it’s like having … the right path and somebody to show you how to walk it,” he said.

In the end, two of the students in the first group went on to college and received full financial support from 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee. At least 25 of the young men in the second group have done the same with some financial support. And since 2003, the organization has paid nearly $400,000 in college costs.

But, the group has also faced its challenges and tragedies. Nearly 30 of the students in the third group have moved away or simply dropped out of the program. Some are in jail. One was shot and killed.

“These are young men who, in many cases are contending with serious choices and serious socioeconomic disadvantage,” said Granderson. “What we have tried to do is stand in that gap, show them they do have potential and that they are going to have to step up to the plate and make sure that they themselves have a future.”

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Written by Symphony

May 17, 2008 at 3:39 pm

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