Such a milestone has arrived in our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown, compliments of the fine work of 100 Black Men of Bradley County Inc.
We addressed the accomplishment editorially in Sunday’s edition of this newspaper. However, the focus then landed on the hopes, the dreams and the prayers of a young Cleveland Middle School student who is benefiting as a mentee of the two-decade old organization.
His name is Ashton Dunn and his “I Am the Future” essay was among several mentees and scholarship recipients — past, present and future — who were featured as part of the festive annual Scholarship & Mentoring Banquet held in the Deacon Jones dining hall on the Lee University campus.
But a slew of adults spoke as well and the words of each carried a special message to — and about the work — of the 100 BMBC organization, and its community members. It is fitting that we share some of their thoughts.
n Ronald Arnold, 100 BMBC president who is active in the organization’s youth mentoring program and which is headed by Vice President Tony Blair Jr., didn’t spend time patting his own group on the back for its fine work. Instead, he gave credit where he believes it is most due — the community, which has risen in support of the nonprofit since its 1994 inception.
“This year we will complete 20 years as an organization, but without the support we have received from all of you, we would not have lasted 20 months,” Arnold told a huge crowd of families, supporters, government representatives and other civic leaders at the lively event.
He also thanked the crowd for attending because the major turnout handed a positive reinforcement to the organization whose community work is coordinated strictly through the volunteer efforts of its members.
“[Community support] is so vital to the success and continuation of the organization,” Arnold said.
That support is not just through people numbers. It comes as well through corporate sponsorships and individual donations. The work of 100 Black Men comes from the heart, but its scholarships and mentoring expenses rely upon the goodwill of a community that believes in the value of investing in our young people.
Want to see such an investment at its finest?
Check out the mentoring sessions held at Cleveland Middle School every Friday morning that are conducted by 100 BMBC volunteers like Blair, Arnold and Donald Humes, among several others. It’s a commitment in time, but mostly it’s an outreach in humanity.
n Cleveland Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, who served as the group’s founding president and who has never lost his zeal for the cause in the 20 years since, urged others to join the march.
“When I look at these kids and think about how far we’ve come and how many of you have stayed with it ... I am asking every man in here, if you are not a member of 100 Black Men, you need to sign up,” the longtime city leader declared.
He added, “And it don’t make any difference to me what you look like.”
Truly, these are fitting words for an organization that fits the times.
n Bishop Guilford Ronnie Hill, a retired Cleveland City Schools educator and principal who now dedicates his life to the ministry, delivered the evening’s keynote address. Known by his friends as “Ron,” and someone who speaks with a humorous yet telling flair, Hill once reminded his listeners it’s OK to offer the occasional “amen,” in spite of today’s lean toward political correctness.
He offered, “I know as you get older it seems like time moves quickly. C’mon, somebody ought to say ‘Amen.’ Lee University is a Christian community, so you can say amen.”
Crediting those who shaped the past and challenging others who will forge the future, the good-natured speaker bellowed, “We have come a long way, and yet we still have a long way to go.”
Leading the journey are organizations like 100 Black Men.
“Twenty years ago, the name of the 100 Black Men organization was a new terminology on the lips of most of us in Bradley County,” Bishop Hill reflected. “There have been many changes, and yet it is essential, because this special group of individuals contributes to and impacts our community in an awesome and enormous way.”
Among the underlying themes of the speaker’s inspiring message, perhaps the one that best captured the night was, “You are not here just because it is an accident. You ought to be here because you want to see someone go farther, go higher and do better than any of us have done in our lifetime.”
That “someone” is a child. That “someone” is the collective voice of our children.
And now may we offer our own “Amen.”