Members of 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. delivered boisterous greetings as the young, sleepy-faced students entered Cleveland Middle School’s art classroom.
President Ronald Arnold explained the club’s mentoring program usually draws anywhere from 25 to 30 students on any given Friday.
He added, “However, most of them are involved with the play this morning.”
About 12 students filed into the seats with styrofoam cereal bowls and milk cartons resting in front of them. As the hum of conversation grew, mentoring chair Tony Blair Jr. took center floor.
He encouraged students to be dedicated to a certain goal or dream.
“If you want it, guess what?” Blair asked his young crowd. “Somebody else is willing to help you get what you need.”
He listed possible aids as teachers and counselors, but the obvious helping hand stands in front of the middle schoolers.
The Friday morning mentoring program at Cleveland Middle began prior to 2005 and continues to deliver on the club’s Vision Statement of serving as a beacon of leadership, “by utilizing our diverse talents to create environments where our children are motivated to achieve.”
Students focused on Blair as he looked at each of them in turn. He urged them to reach their dreams through performing well in school. According to Blair, the dreams are attainable — provided students take the needed steps. He reminded them the 100 Black Men organization wants them to succeed.
Blair later explained the idea behind the Future CEO slogan.
“We don’t want them to just work for it. We want them to own it,” Blair said. “If we can put that seed in their minds now, it will generate their whole college and career, and help them succeed.”
Club members give the students a realistic outlook on success.
“We don’t want them to think they have a silver spoon,” said club member Oscar Kelly. “They have to work for what they get.”
Continued Kelly, “We know everyone is not going to be a CEO, but we try to instill that in their minds, so it gives them something to look forward to so it is not just basketball.”
Each meeting includes a word from the club and often a presentation from a local community member. The goal is to present role models with positive messages on careers and life choices. The overall themes emphasized throughout the meetings include positive self-identity and personal vision, life skills, social and emotional skills, moral character, work ethic and lifelong learning.
Members utilize one-on-one mentoring, group mentoring and tag-team mentoring to build the students’ dreams and confidence while addressing issues in their young lives.
Sometimes the young mentees join club members for a day trip down to Atlanta, a conference or a special lunch. Blair explained every student must reach the required 15 hours of community service before joining the fun.
Added Kelly, “And they do it.”
Blair said it can take the students a while, but they complete the hours.
“We tell them, ‘If you take two steps, we will take two steps. If you don’t give nothing, then you can expect nothing,’” Blair said. “You can’t expect a 40-hour check, if you don’t go to work.”
Arnold explained the middle school students are easier to reach than the high school age teens.
“You form a lot of ideas between 10 and 13. Once a kid gets into his later teenage years, he has a lot of ideas already formed in his mind,” Arnold said. “It is a lot easier for us to talk to them in this period right here than any other period in their life.”
Members encourage middle school youth at Cleveland Middle of every grade and race to attend the 7 a.m. meetings every Friday.
“We want the Latinos here. We want the Caucasians. We want them all here,” Blair said. “Anyone who wants to be mentored to, I give them a membership program and tell them to call me.”
More information on the programs offered through the club can be found at www.100bmbc.org.