100 Black Men of America: Developing inherent possibilities of greatness in our Black youth
By Starla Vaughns Cherin
I am who I say I am and I am living out my destiny, is what Dr. Thomas A. Parham Vice Chancellor University of California, Irvine and the Education Chair of the 100 Black Men of America. “Each of us is a divine seed of divinely inspired possibility if nurtured it can and will grow into the fullest of all we are supposed to become. Everything you need is within you.”
Managing the Dynamics of Cultural Identity: Unlocking the Shackles of Mental Incarceration workshop, helped participants analyze the societal negative stereotypical thinking about African American men and steps to a positive definition of self to harness and use their potential.
Urging the group to let no one else define them, Dr. Parham asked the group to understand that mistakes do not define you and introduced the dimensions of the African character Ma’at Code of Conduct based on Truth, Justice, Righteousness, Harmony, Order, Balance and Propriety.
“Take the old CD out and break it in half, put a new CD in and burn some new information on it. You do not lose your divinity because you made a mistake, failed a test or com-mitted a crime. You have the free will to make conscious choices to respond to my reality in ways that I choose. I am not a victim of following the crowd.
“No matter how dysfunctional or inappropriate a behavior seems, it has a functional purpose. It is not why people do things; it is what do they get out of it? Behavior is designed to meet a need at some level” Parham says.
The lure of gangs according to Parham is they make the individual feel validation and love. “That is why they are so successful. We are raising kids with low frustration tolerance and it’s our fault because we want to give them everything. (We say more give them more than what we had but it has insulated them from the process of struggle. [I don’t understand this])
“My daughter asked me to buy her a car and said Daddy you can afford it. I said yes, I can but you can’t afford it. I will help you after you have a down payment, money for insurance and the first six months of car payments.”
Developing tasks that explore and build fundamental emotional and cognitive needs are inherent in the 100 Black Men’s African American History Challenge and the Dollars and $ense Challenge. Annually chapters compete within their districts for scholarship dollars by participating in the challenge. The winning two teams in each challenge come to the national conference to compete for the ultimate team win.
This year the 100 Black Men of Philadelphia won both the junior and senior divisions of the African American History Challenge and the 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge won the Dollars and $ense Challenge.
“They compete at the district level and the winning two teams of each chapter come to national to compete for the championship. For the history challenge we use books selected by national to enhance the study of African American legacy and culture,” says Dennis Wright, president of the conference host chapter The 100 Black Men of Greater Fort Lauderdale. “In the Dollars and $ense Challenge participants are given a financial scenario and they have to determine what is the best approach based on the financial challenge given.”
Merle Watson a coach for the Omaha Nebraska 100 Black Men has been working with kids competing in the challenges for seven years. In her county in Omaha the 100 Black Men’s programs are implemented district wide in their 12 High Schools. Within the district Burke and Central high schools are always running neck and neck in the competitions.
She began coaching in June for the December district wide competition and says her group gets really charged by the competition. “I really believe in what the 100 is doing,” Watson says. “They are getting past obstacles, especially those in the poverty stricken areas where we live. Interaction with the 100 shows them something different. It shows them that everyone doesn’t live like this.
“It gives them a different perspective; a positive way that is very empowering that cultivates fearlessness that anything is possible. Especially when they win and get an all expense paid trip to the national conference. Over the years, the more I come, the more I am inspired.”
In Watson’s group the younger ones will come in up to a year ahead and help the senior group prepare for the next year’s annual challenge competition. “Sometimes it is so close, Watson added. “Last year it was one or two questions between the loser and the winner. They win scholarship money, and their picture in the paper.
When Javon Nathaniel, Jellani Barber, Jordan Eley and D’Andre Allgood from Charlotte, NC passed by Watson asked who won the challenge? “Baton Rouge said, “Nathaniel, who turned himself and up and coming freshmen. “It’s great being here. You get to meet new people hear what they are doing. I like the overall interaction with different people; it helps you get a different mind-set.”
Examples of books used for the competition include Lerone Bennett, Jr.’s “Before the Mayflower” and Dr. Benjamin Quarles, “The Negro in the Making of American Life.” Dr. Parham recommended “The Autobiography of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Autobiography of Malcom X” by Malcom X and the “Mis-Education of the Negro” by Carter G. Woodson.
“There is a need for mental liberation. As Woodson says ‘If you allow people to control the way you think, you do not have to assign them to an inferior status. If necessary they will seek it for themselves. Do not think success means selling out. Excellence is not anti-Black,” Parham says.
“Identify where you define yourself by what you do or by the negative stereotypes perpetuated by society. Read history; establish a conception of who you are. Get a mentor and maintain your interpersonal relationships and incorporate something of the divine. Fashion a set of standards and values for your behavior and living. With a little care and sensitivity there is always the ability to transform. Ideas are the substance of behavior.”