The world is full of opportunity and those taking advantage of it are too often overlooked.
Ronald Arnold, 60, originally from Sheffield, Ala., and now president of the 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc., is one such person.
Arnold was raised by his parents, Durie and Claudia Arnold whom he credits as his greatest inspiration and influence alongside his grandfather, Wallie Arnold. His parents were not always involved in the Baptist church, which is what has kept Arnold on track.
“I did not realize at first how much that influenced me, but it did,” Arnold said. “I’m hoping that my influence will help my children and their children and the children that we mentor with the 100 Black Men of Bradley County. That is what I would like to pass on.”
Arnold has worked with 100 BMBC since 2005. Established in 1963, the nonprofit organization mentors at-risk children and has grown to 120 chapters worldwide. Three to five members with a selected speaker go to Cleveland Middle School every Friday morning for an hour. The group holds mentoring sessions during which members discuss their lives before the kids — the ups, downs, their education, and ways to avoid pitfalls of life.
“I tell them, ‘You’ve got to be real about this thing (life).’ Young people are very interested if you can gain their attention. A lot of these young kids have role models they see on television that aren’t appropriate role models. What we try to do is bring reality to them and tell them how to be a success: work. If you’re not willing to work, you’re not going to make it,” Arnold said.
Arnold can speak from experience. After graduating from Sheffield High School in 1971, he went straight into the U.S. Navy on Oct. 13, 1971, serving almost four years. He was honorably discharged Sept. 22, 1975, then came to Cleveland to work as an Ocoee plant worker with the Tennessee Valley Authority. Having a break in service from July 1985 to January 1990, Arnold went to Alabama until September 1990, when he came back to the Ocoee plant again, working there until his retirement on Dec. 31, 2009.
“The biggest inspiration in my life is knowing the world is open to you if you apply yourself and gain the proper qualifications. When the U.S. Navy trained me to be a jet mechanic they turned me loose working on a $5 to $10 million aircraft.
“A little black boy from north Alabama, born in 1953, working on a $10 million dollar aircraft — that’s an inspiration,” Arnold said. “That let me know I can do anything possible. From 18 to 22, I was in the Navy on an aircraft carrier in Virginia Beach, Va. That was my last duty station. I did all my growing up there. I was pretty much a man because my daddy raised me to be a man, but once I got out on my own I had to use my head to stay out of trouble. I had to use my head to learn my craft.”
As he got to the end of his career at TVA and started learning more about the 100 BMBC organization, his interest peaked. He and his wife, Nepsie, have three kids of their own, Tiffany, 35, Ronnie Jr. (“R.J.”) 31, and Jameson, 27, and Arnold saw how many children are in trouble all the time because of a lack of parental guidance.
“My biggest accomplishment is being a dad, so I thought it would be a good thing to put my energy out there and try to turn lives around,” he stressed. “If you can help one child, they can turn around and help out a lot more than you can. If you bring up good, law-abiding, civic-minded children, that’s going to enhance society. To me, it’s a very positive experience, especially when you go to the national conventions and you hear about the things going on all over the country.”
Needing 25 members to stay a viable, active chapter, 100 BMBC seeks to bring in new members.
“You have to be understanding because everyone’s got a lot on their plate right now and it’s enough to take care of your individual family, no less try to mentor other people’s kids, but it’s a good thing to do. You can’t do anything by yourself, but if you join an organization like the 100 BMBC you can [accomplish a lot],” Arnold said.
February, which is Black History Month, is about looking at American history. Focus is placed on the greats who have changed the nation’s history and those who are making a difference today. For Arnold, that is looking to one of his heroes, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. From the 1950s to April 4, 1968, King had one of the biggest hands in changing the lives of African-Americans across the U.S., and many feel his leadership remains proud and true in touching all Americans’ lives today.
“It’s nice for these kids to know where they come from, because if you do not know where you come from, you won’t have anything to reach back for, and you won’t have anything to reach forward for,” Arnold explained. “If the books do not reflect what the true history of this nation is, they will never know. Black History Month shows them what truly went on.”