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100 Black Men program pairs education and life lessons

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by Jordan Novet
Commercial Dispatch

They’ve had six days to soar before heading back home.

Fourteen black young men entering eighth or ninth grade in northeast Mississippi public schools have been learning about Web design, creative writing, literacy, judo and other subjects at the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science since Sunday, as part of the 100 Black Men’s Summer Research Institute for African-American Males.

And the programs have been “inspiring,” encouraging students to find “a better place in life,” according to the students.

“Very inspirational,” Quentin White, an incoming eighth-grader at New Hope Middle School, said after a Monday night leadership session with Jim Parkinson, a California lawyer and co-author of the book “Soldier Slaves,” which recounts details of serving as counsel for American soldiers captured by the Japanese in World War II and used as slave laborers.

White is the son of Monalease and Frazier White.

Passing on Paris

Parkinson had skipped out on jetting out to Paris or Africa for his 36th anniversary to speak at MSMS’s Hooper Auditorium.

“… even though it’s his anniversary, he’d rather be here for us than with his wife. And that just means a lot. If I ever get a wife, I can’t imagine myself in that situation,” White said.

“I made a decision that when I was invited to come here, to the 100 Black Men of Columbus, Miss., program for you, I told my wife that this was the most important talk I’m ever gonna give, because you matter,” Parkinson said during his speech.

“So I said, ‘We’re not gonna spend our anniversary in some fancy resort. We’re going to Columbus, Miss.,’” he continued.

Powerful tools

Parkinson proceeded to demonstrate the importance of knowing the difference between regardless and irregardless (the latter is not a word) and the difference between flammable and inflammable (they mean the same thing). He also told the boys about historic black Americans Frederick Douglass, who learned to read while enslaved, and Malcolm X, a civil rights leader.

He also promised the boys if they would read his book — which he provided them autographed copies of — and then write him a letter, he would send them a $50 check.

Terrence Payne, another incoming eighth-grader at New Hope Middle School, said he would try to read Parkinson’s book.


“I don’t like reading, but I’m probably gonna read his book, just ’cuz he took time from his anniversary to talk to us,” said Payne, son of Arron and Letitia Payne.

And Jalen Peterson, an incoming ninth-grader at East Oktibbeha County High School, called the session “great.”

“We could make our life better, and we could be whatever we wanna be, and we can make a better place in life,” said Peterson, Shelia and John Peterson’s son.

The week has been filled with leadership speakers for the 14 young men. Today is the last day of programs for the students before they pack up and head home.

The program stems from the school’s collaboration with the Columbus chapter of the national service organization 100 Black Men.

Tools of success

The goal of the program is to give the young men “the tools in helping them to be successful,” said Dennis Irby, the secretary and treasurer of the local chapter. “So, consequently, we take them out of an environment they’re used to and put them … into an environment where they would greater excel. … All we could see coming from that was positive.”

This year’s program cost 100 Black Men $10,000, which comes from corporate donations and membership dues, and there is no charge for the students.

The summer program began after Robinson had a conversation in 1996 with Mike Neyman, a former director of MSMS, and Bernard Bridges, a commercial loan officer for Trustmark, about how young black people weren’t choosing engineering, teaching science and dentistry as career paths.

‘Stimulating interest’

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could somehow start stimulating interest (in those fields)?” Robinson had said. “Maybe we could see an increase in computer scientists, and engineering.”

About a year later, Robinson and Irby sat down with MSMS staffers and created a curriculum for the camp.

100 Black Men wanted the kids to learn, Irby said.

Then MSMS contacted public schools in various northeast Mississippi counties, which tapped certain students to take part in the program. The first camp was held that year.


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