Members of the long-respected group’s board of directors, who gave their hearts and committed their passions to the cause of at-risk African-American youngsters two decades ago, are well into the planning for this year’s festive gathering.
To be held in the Deacon Jones Dining Hall on the Lee University campus, the communitywide observance — which routinely attracts hundreds of area residents, supporters and government leaders — will kick off at 6:30 p.m.
To feature musical entertainment and special presentations, the night will serve as a tribute to past and present scholarship recipients, some of whom will be invited to make brief addresses during the evening. Current mentees, whose lives are being impacted by the organization’s longtime mentoring program, also will be recognized.
Organization sponsors, several of whom have supported the 100 BMBC causes of scholarships and mentoring for years, also will be recognized.
Event planners are still awaiting confirmation of the keynote speaker. This is expected to be announced within the next few days, according to Ronald Arnold, 100 BMBC president.
Additional details such as ticket price and when they will be sold will also be included in the coming announcement. Traditionally, tickets can be purchased from any 100 BMBC member or from the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce (472-6587).
“We want people to be aware the planning is underway and we will be identifying the keynote speaker very soon, once confirmed,” Arnold said.
As it has in past years, the annual banquet will spotlight scholarship recipients, the mentoring program, ongoing sponsors — new and old — and the organization’s mission and vision.
“We’ve got a great bunch of kids in our mentoring program,” Arnold stressed. “We do this because we want to do this. We are unpaid volunteers who are passionate about our work. This banquet is all about the kids, the scholarships and the mentoring.”
Organization vice president Tony Blair Jr., who chairs the 100 BMBC Mentoring Program, added, “This is our passion. I wish we had this organization when I was a kid.”
Arnold said one of the evening’s highlights is its recognition of the young students who are being mentored and who are scholarship recipients. The 100 BMBC Scholarship Program operates with the theme, “Future CEOs.”
“A pat on the back goes a long, long way,” Arnold said of the organization’s tribute to its young people. “We will be parading our students on this evening ... and as many as we can.”
The local organization, which serves as a Bradley County affiliate of the national 100 Black Men of America Inc., traces its roots to Nov. 13, 1993. On this date, the group’s first organizational session was held at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.
According to a printed history of the organization as updated by 100 BMBC member Abu Swafford, “Those in the room came together with a goal in mind ... to learn more about the national chapter and to discuss ways to increase participation in the program. At that time, members were mainly concerned with improving the quality of life within our community — mainly that of young African American males.”
Facilitators of those early meetings were Avery Johnson and Gene McKissic.
Johnson, who is the longtime vice mayor of Cleveland, went on to serve as the founding president of 100 BMBC when it was officially chartered by the national organization in May 1994. Following this notification, charter members attended the national convention in Nashville in June 1994.
On May 23, 1994, the group’s name changed to 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc. Previously, it had operated as 100 Black Men of Action pending approval of the national charter.
On Aug. 6, 1994, the local organization held its first annual youth retreat at Cleveland State Community College.
Historical documents indicate, “Twenty-eight young men signed up for the mentoring program with a total of 12 men and 12 women signing up for what would become an annual scholarship. Sixty adults and parents from within the community were in attendance.”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Josh Murphy, who served as the mentoring chair for 100 Black Men of America. Part of Murphy’s presentation was the showing of a video titled, “Reaching the Hip-Hop Generation.”
In December 1994, the local organization announced its first scholarship recipients — Tyrus Smartt and Demetrius Ramsey, each of whom received $2,000 scholarships toward their first year of college.
A few months later, scholarship partnerships were formed with Cleveland Bank & Trust, SunTrust Bank and The Hoyle Rymer Foundation. Other companies later joined 100 BMBC as partners for the community initiative that focused its work on education and opportunity for young people.
According to the group’s printed history, from 1994 through 2011, some $732,940 was presented in scholarship funds to minority youth who were considered to be at-risk. In 20 years time, 100 BMBC has now distributed some $900,000 in scholarships. In 2013, the organization presented $40,950 in scholarships to students.
Since its inception, 100 BMBC has expanded its mission to include not only mentoring and scholarships, but also initiatives dedicated to Health and Wellness, as well as Economic Development. The overall mission now is refered to as “Four for the Future.”
“We have also had 43 students to complete, and to graduate from, colleges and universities all across the state of Tennessee and the nation,” [Avery] Johnson cited.
As 100 BMBC’s founding president, Johnson reflected on the organization’s two decades of work.
“The success of ‘The 100’ and our scholarship program is due to our community support and our friends who believe in ‘Building Bridges for the Future the 100 Way,’” Johnson stressed.
Arnold, who holds the presidency 20 years after Johnson’s inaugural term, added, “It all begins with a good education.”
The 100 BMBC’s first election of officers took place in January 1995.
The slate of leaders included [Avery] Johnson, founding president; William Rankin, first vice president; J. R. Bridgeman, second vice president; Harvey Tillery, treasurer; Sylvester Harris II, secretary; James McKissic, correspondent secretary; Willie Glass, mentoring chairman; Donald Humes, sergeant-at-arms; Andrew Johnson, parliamentarian; Drew Robinson, scholarship chairman; Roy Perkins, chaplain; David Turner, program and fundraising chairman; Thomas Scotton, historian; James Parris, activity coordinator; and Calvin Crawford, board member.
Other facts about 100 BMBC during the group’s 20 years of history are:
n The inaugural Scholarship & Mentoring Banquet was held in 1996 at Life Care Centers of America.
n In 1997-98, the Scholarship & Mentoring Banquet was held at Cleveland State Community College and featured the keynote address of Lloyd Ward, CEO of the former Maytag Corporation.
n In 2000, the banquet was held at Lee University and the featured speaker was U.S. astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space.
n Lee University launched a longstanding partnership with 100 BMBC and hosted the annual banquet for the first time in 1999.
n The mentoring and scholarship program grew from 12 to a high of 51. Currently, 100 BMBC works with 36 students in the program.
n Twelve students have graduated from Lee University as the result of the program: Teju Adeshola, Jacqueline Brown, Danielle Bryan, Nicole Bryan, Randy Cooper, Elizabeth Kamau, Mikaela Laney, ReAnna Laney, Jocelyn Rayner, Chris Smith, Siphra Tchou and Alicia Ware.
n Along with Lee University, other colleges and universities to graduate 100 BMBC scholarship recipients include Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Maryville College, Louisiana State University, Cleveland State Community College, Georgia Tech University, Alabama State University, East Tennessee State University, Vanderbilt University, University of Tampa, University of Memphis, University of South Carolina, Tennessee State University, Austin Peay State University and Belmont University.
n Graduates have included Ebony Shinese Johnson, Amber Kienlen, Nichole Bryan, Mikaela Laney, Renita Wells, Shayla Camille Johnson-Bunion, Alexandria Walker, Danielle Bryan, Desmond Rankin, Jacqueline Brown, Audrienne Ector, ReAnna Laney, Jocelyn Raynor, Casarae Lattimore, Chris Carter, Patience Brown, Connette Moon, Brittany Walker, Jahanna Bazel, Amber Brown, Garnetta Holloway, Michael Hodges, Mary Kamuira, Jessica Mosby, Nelum Porte, Chris Smith, Teju Adeshola, Toya Cobb, Randy Cooper, Elizabeth Kamau, Joelle Tchou, Siphra Tchou, Alica Ware, Demetra Ware, Precious Woods, Quantal Langford, Cortez Rankin, Shaneene White, Tachika Bryant, Angela Johnson, Alisha Gaines, Tonya Capron, Twyla Ware, Rayceen Johnson, Natalie Benton, Tyrus Smartt and Demetrius Ramsey.
The scholarship program assists high school graduates who are entering college and the mentoring initiative works with children — boys and girls — between the ages of 11 and 13.
Although eligibility in the schlarship and mentoring program is based on grade point average, other criteria are involved.
“Community service hours have to be fulfilled,” Arnold said in a prior interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner. “They (students) can’t be involved in anything bad ... no alcohol, no cigarettes, no gangs. They must stay away from all that.”
He added, “These kids work for this scholarship money; they earn it. That’s why we always ask the community to step up by giving more, if at all possible. These are bad financial times on everyone, but those who can help, we ask them to help.”