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A Fathers' Day tribute to the work of the 100 BMOL

FROM BOYS TO MEN: 100 Black Men of London mentor Desmond, left, looking on a mentee presents to their group (photo credit: www.100bmol.org.uk)

JUNE 12, 2017. A former mentee of The 100 Black Men of London (100 BMOL) has made the organisation an offer. The offer is simple. He now works with a technology company and would like to offer us coding training for our current mentees.

I go up to the city to meet with him and discuss his offer - I immediately recognise him even though he's now in his late twenties. Dean Aston attended our program when it was held at the Marcus Garvey Centre in Tottenham, so we are talking about over 14 years ago. His first three sentences to me make 16 years of work oh so worth it. He says:

“The 100 changed my life. I never would be where I am today if it had not been for you guys. My favourite session, the one which really changed things for me, was the session on peer pressure”.

So how did this all begin?

In 2001 I was a newish father. My son was just six years old and protected from the outside world. That said, I was very concerned about the world he was growing up in and my ability as a father to effectively prepare him for what lay ahead. Sure, I knew I could teach him the basics, but not having been brought up in the UK myself, how could I truly prepare him effectively for the streets of south London and the big city in which he’d be very likely to live and work?


FATHER FIGURE: A mentee, left, with 100 Black Men of London mentor Desmond (photo credit: www.100bmol.org.uk)

To further compound the issue, I was going through a nasty custody battle which ended with me only having access to my son every other weekend and half of the holidays. How was I to influence and train this young man? Would he grow up to be just another statistic? Would I eventually give up and add to the growing number of 'absent fathers'?

As they say for every problem, there is a solution. One day that same year a gentleman, Mr. Ken Barnes, walked up to me in a David Lloyd's gym and asked me a simple question about whether or not I would like to hear more about an organisation which he wished to form, which would be dedicated to working with our children, but run by men. He did not have to ask twice.

The name escapes me now, but I attended a meeting in a venue by Tower Bridge where Ken took us through what felt like six million slides. Was I bored? Hell no. His passion and his answer to one question had me sold. Ken was asked why he was doing this. His response is now a part of 100 Black Men folklore. He said:

“I have two daughters and if I do not create the type of men I’d like to see them marry, who will?”

A couple of weeks later a small group of black men met and the 100 Black Men of London was born.

The 100 BMOL is a chapter of the 100 Black Men of America, which was created in the 1960s as a response by black men to what they saw as the poor conditions within their community and the lack of official efforts to deal with those conditions. They decided that rather than complain or sit around waiting for handouts or government help, they would fix it themselves.


ALL TOGETHER NOW: Mentees and members of the 100 Black Men of London (photo credit: www.100bmol.org.uk)

The core driver was the belief that if 100 like-minded black men pooled resources, they could change their community greatly. Thus, the 100 Black Men (100 BM) was born. Now with over 100 chapters, (the first international chapter was in Birmingham right here in the UK), the 100 focusses on four key areas or 'pillars' as they call them:

1. Mentoring

2.Education

3.Economic Development

4.Health and wellbeing.

As word of the 100 and its ethos began to spread around the social circles of London, many clearly felt an organisation lead by black men could not survive 18 months, much less 16 years. Now, 16 years later the 100 is a well-respected organisation. They have won Chapter of the Year many times at the International 100 Black Men of America Inc. annual conference. The innovation shown by the UK members and volunteers has led to award-winning programs like our Parenting Programme, which is unique to the London chapter and was created by one of our female volunteers.


EACH ONE TEACH ONE: A 100 Black Men of London mentor, right, with mentees (photo credit: www.100bmol.org.uk)

The 100 is a success story. It shows our youth that some are not willing to simply cross the road when faced with our young people. It shows care and love for not just our children, but all children. It demonstrates the effectiveness of 'village' parenting. It shows that as a community we can, in fact, work together and routinely produce excellence.

All those things are great, but the 100 BMOL also exemplify something which is all too often overlooked in the UK black community - black men; strong black men working together for the betterment of their community.

The core ethos of the 100 is that black men must step up. That they must lead and they must take full responsibility. For the last 16 years a small, but growing group of black men have done just that.

Importantly - and this is truly an important point - the service of the 100 has brought awareness of other male-led groups working silently and effectively in London.

So, why is this such an important point? The 100 have a saying - 'What They See Is What They’ll Be'. If we are serious about lifting our community and redefining specifically how our young men are perceived, the youth must see men operating in excellence. We must provide them with the template of what good looks like. In truth, the same goes for our young women. They must see what the mythical ‘good man’ looks like so as to ensure they can pick him when the time comes.


KINGS AND QUEENS: 100 Black Men of London member Ade Shokoya, centre, with mentees at a gala in 2008 (photo credit: www.100bmol.org.uk)

Strong communities are built on strong families. Strong families need strong men. Visibly strong men. The truth of the matter is there are many men doing a great job supporting and building our communities, but all too often invisible. Groups like the 100 showcase the work of such men and serve to remind us that we can all contribute in some way.

All that said, I know that many of you reading this are only hearing of the 100 for the very first time. The question is why? Is it that their marketing is poor? Maybe. But I’d like to offer a more likely reason. The UK media does not like good news and certainly not good news about the actions of positive black men.

Over the last 16 years the 100 have worked with literally hundreds of youth and their parents and yet they have had only limited media coverage. Their annual graduation which is the showcase of their programs has never been covered by any in the mainstream media. Could it be that like you, they too are unaware of the 100's existence? No. And how do I know that? By the number of calls, the 100 receive when there is a stabbing or killing of a black boy by another black boy - only then are they called for comment.

So, let’s celebrate these men, not just today on Father's Day but in the best way I can think of and spread word of their activities. Tell at least three people about their work and get the word out that our men and women can and do work successfully for our communities.

This piece is in memory of Mr. Dale Burton (1959-2017), founding member of the 100 Black Men of London. Your service and your spirit were exceptional.

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