By Starla Vaughns Cherin
The first valedictorian of B.E.S.T Academy, Sharod McClendon, is the first male in his family to graduate high school and the first to attend college as a Gates Millennium Scholar, but his future didn’t always look so bright. McClendon, born to a teen mother faced his grandmother on crack and at age 10 his uncle was 25 to life in prison and his father murdered.
Though always a good student, McClendon began to act out in school and his grades dropped but talking to the principal Alison Shelton helped. “It was hard. My family and my uncle were always hanging out and I wanted to hang out with them and not think about school. I didn’t understand my mom’s reasoning and judgment. Then I started to see what she meant by getting into trouble you can’t get out of,” says McClendon.
“It was hard on her. My uncle and I were raised together. He is six years older than me. Before she got custody of my uncle she took care of him and always tried to talk to him because he had an impact on us. He hurt her but in a way she is glad because at least he’s alive. He tells me how proud he is of me. That was hard losing him and then the following year my dad was murdered. I no longer had any one to look up to. I became the man of the household and had to grow up.”
He remembers Mom, Shanicka, reading to him in kindergarten, helping with homework, stressing education accepting no less than an A, but by the time he entered high school he again began to get into trouble although he was rated 13th in his class. “As a freshman in public high school I start getting into trouble. It was the environment. I had to take myself out of it because a lot of my family members went to school with me and if they got into a fight I had to take up for them.”
He transferred to B.E.S.T Academy and in his senior year, the entire senior class received Emerging 100 Mentors from the 100 Black Men of Atlanta. Mc-Clendon received three, Kirk Brown, Kevin Gooch and Courtney Ward.
This summer he’s interning with the Alston and Bird Law Firm, an internship his mentor Gooch helped him attain.
This is just one of many success stories exhibited and nurtured at the 100 Black Men of America’s 28th Annual Conference at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Fla. on Father’s Day weekend. With specified events and workshops for adults, women, collegiate and youth from the Wells Fargo Pathways to Success, to the Salute to Youth Luncheon, the Education Issues Summits, Women of Influence: Leveraging Social and Political Clout to Change Public Education, Collegiate 100: Successfully Negotiating Peer Acceptance While Achieving Academic Excellence to the Teen Summit: Young and Black in American: Learning to See the Invisible and Hear the Voiceless.
Dennis Wright, president of host chapter 100 Black Men of Greater Fort Lauderdale says the national conferences focus is two-fold. “Part one is to show what we’re doing at a national level to help youth in our community and number two the host city benefits by the increase of awareness of the 100 Black Men organization as well as being able to empower the com-munity, leveraging local and national resources.”
McClendon was one of the college bound youth and mentors saluted at The Salute to Youth Luncheon where keynote speaker Dr. Dennis Kimbro, nationally acclaimed author of “The Wealth Choice: Success Secrets of Black Millionaires”, faculty School of Business Clark Atlanta University and head of Clark’s CEO Academy; recalled shadowing Maynard Jackson, Atlanta’s first African American mayor. “I was struggling with my first book and asked for an interview. He said no but allowed me to shadow me. I saw him increase minority representation at the airport and make 14 Black millionaires.”
Awards for Mentor of the Year went to Michael Carlisle of 100 Black Men of Western Pennsylvania. Mr. Mike as they call him has given 28 years to the 100 Black Men mentoring more than 600 youth in Pitts-burgh and over the years brought more than 100 youth to annual conferences. “We are asked to be true in word and deed,” Carlisle said. “Giving li-berates the giver.
Mentee of the Year, Jaylen Lewis of 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge maintains a 3.5 GPA while delivering 50 hours of community service and perfect attendance with the youth department at his church. “I am a living witness it takes a village, my church, 100 Black Men and my mom who is truly an inspiration.”
Collegiate 100 of the Year went to Collegiate 100 University of North Carolina Charlotte and the Youth Leadership in Education Award to Grace Bush, Florida Atlantic University. She earned her bachelor’s in criminal justice from FAU and seven days later graduated from high school. She’s 17 and started college with dual enrollment at 13. She wants to be a Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Home schooled by their mom Gisla Bush, Esq., who says it was her husband’s Bobby suggestion she home school the children. “No, it was not on my radar and the furthest thing from my mind but it made sense. Our oldest daughter was on her way to private school and two others were soon to follow. That is three in at one time and it wasn’t feasible.
“I was thinking, I’m not trained as an educator and now I have my children’s life and future at stake. In the beginning I was still trying to find my footing so that am I giving my children the best but I realized the parent has more wherewithal than they think. The one thing they have is this is their child and they want the best for their child. Teachers have 30 children and their time is divided among them and they hope for the best. But I’ve found that the one on one interaction is the best and as well as the dedication of the parent.”
Upon accepting the award, Bush said, “I am truly grateful and I am truly proud of all my children.” The entire Bush family was honored when Grace and her eight siblings making up the classical music ensemble BG Harmonies performed at the end and Dillard High School Jazz Ensemble performed during the luncheon.
Next year Bush starts on her Maste’s in public administration at FAU and this summer she’s attending music camp with the South Florida Youth Symphony. She says music helps relieve stress. “I’ve been Involved in music all my life,” Bush says. “We all started out on a recorder; now I’m playing the flute. Music helps stimulate your thought process. You can see things you might not otherwise see. It helps you consider other things in life and be able to see it in a different perspective.”
McClendon is attending Louisiana State University majoring in political communications thinking towards law school. There were no dry eyes as he paid tribute to his mother. “I dedicate a lot to my mom,” he says. “She went through a lot and still finished high school and separated herself from her family to raise us. She tries to make us independent because she says once you are out on your own you have to be able to fend for yourself. I was happy and blessed to be able to do something good to repay her.”
“My 100 Black Men mentors gave me words of encouragement that helped me out when I was down and opened up opportunities for us. It is lifetime with them and what they do is what I want to do. Come back and help the youth in my community. I will be a part of the 100 Black Men of Atlanta.”
“You see,” Kimbro said, “excellence is the norm, not the exception. Be around the best. It will take a lifetime to produce another Curley Dossman, Jr. Chairman of the Board of the 100 Black Men of America. Our charge is to ignite the leaders of tomorrow.”