Black Youth: Creating A Level Playing Field
with Thomas Dortch of 100 Black Men of America
According to a recent Pew report, half of black adults say that race has negatively impacted their ability to get ahead in life.
Thomas Dortch of 100 Black Men of America shares how his organization strives to level the playing field to ensure opportunity for all Americans.
February 03, 2020
Lisnek: In a recent Pew study on race in America, more than half of Americans report that race impacts progress and simply being black adversely impacts one's ability to get ahead. Income gaps, access to better schools and health care, and incarceration rates are several structural barriers at play, all contributing to a particularly great outlook for black youth. Hi, welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Paul Lisnek, And joining me to discuss efforts to level the playing field across the board for African-Americans is Thomas Dortch Jr. He is chairman of 100 Black Men of America, Inc. If you don't mind, I know your friends call you Tommy. Can I do that?
Dortch: Please do, Paul.
Lisnek: Thank you for being with me. You know, I know your organization began in the '80s, but there was an organization -- it's an organization called 100 Black Men. That takes us back to 1963. Give me a quick history lesson.
Dortch: In 1963, The late Jackie Robinson, David Dinkins, who was borough's president, and a total of 100 black men in New York came together to address many of the challenges for black people in New York. And that gave rise at the end of a year -- The question came, "What shall we call ourselves?" And David Dinkins said, "Who we are." 100 Black Men, Inc. And from there in 1996, we formed with nine chapters. 100 Black Men of America focused on mentoring young people in inner cities and throughout smaller communities to make a difference for them and to build communities.
Lisnek: And by the way, it seems like a simple question, but you're not limited to 100 people in a community, right?
Dortch: Oh, no.
Lisnek: I didn't think so.
Dortch: We have over 10,000 members in the organization and over 125,000 young people in our mentoring program.
Lisnek: And, you know, when people -- I want you to describe what you do, but there's just a word, it's emblazoned in my mind. This is all about the power of mentoring.
Dortch: Completely. I mean, when I was growing up... I'm 69 years old. ...they didn't call it mentoring, but the elders in the community always looked out, stayed on us, made sure we didn't get in trouble. So we've taken that model today and we work with young people to make sure one -- We build trust between the elders in the community with the young people, help them the focus. Don't tell them what to do but live by examples. We say we're a real man given real time. And what they see is what they'll be. And so we work with these young people to help them dream their dreams and then help make those dreams a reality.
Lisnek: There would be an age group I can think of where young people you sort of -- They could go off on a bad path, get on the right path. What's the age group range that you all work with to make a difference?
Dortch: We mainly work with middle school, high school, then college. And we have now a new group called Emerging 100, which are the young professionals. We have some chapters that work in elementary, and you really should start with young people even in elementary school. And so, we work in the school systems throughout this country. We're in Africa, we're in England, we're in the Caribbean islands, and we're working to make sure one -- that we get with these young people early, we lead them by example, but also we encourage them, motivate them, 'cause if you take these young people, give them the support, listen to them, and then work with them, they can outperform anybody in the world.
Lisnek: You are an inspiring figure, kind of a legend, I got to tell you. And so along those lines, let me ask you -- If somebody's watching right now and, "I want to work with Tommy, I want to be a mentor," what does it take to qualify to be a mentor and to be a good mentor?
Dortch: Well, first, you got to be a caring adult. You've got to care about young people. You got to be willing to put time in. I helped Susan Taylor, my good friend, start an organization that again emphasized -- if we can get you to give us one hour a week, every week, four weeks out of a month, you can change the lives of young people. And that, again, with the National CARES Mentoring Movement, in the 100, we're looking for adults who are willing to dedicate the time, but you got to listen to young people. You can't tell them what to do. And then we work with them. We have young people in inner city building robots. We're teaching them about entrepreneurship. We're making sure they understand health and wellness and those things. But young people aren't born bad. They learn those bad behaviors from adults.
Lisnek: You've been around for a while, so let me ask you -- it means you've got a span of time to look back on. So tell me about your success. How's it been since 1986?
Dortch: Well we have been phenomenal. We've been honored twice in Rose Garden Ceremony with President Bush Sr., with Bill Clinton. We're working around prime ministers, and others around the world have recognized and honored us. But the most important part is we got young people who graduated from high school and gone on to college who have successful careers. We now have programs where we're getting young people into law school. We're now seeing a lot of the young people we mentor years ago who are now running our organization. They are the chairmen and presidents of organizations. I think the biggest thing for us as adults is to be able to see these young people who succeeded. They make us so proud. But knowing that if we got more adults who would invest the time, we wouldn't see all these young people going from birth to the graveyards or to the prisons. We can make sure they go to college, a trade, and all. It's on us. Adults have to stand up, have to be counted, have to be involved, and that's what we're doing in the 100. It's phenomenal.
Lisnek: I'm sure you have inspired viewers who are watching us right now. So they're sitting there going, "I want to get involved. What do I do?" So tell him, Tommy. How do they get involved?
Dortch: Well first, they can contact us. Go to our website. It's the number 100blackmen.org. And they can see the programs and where our chapters are located. They can start a program themselves in mentoring. Go into the schools. The schools need positive images, and most of our high schools don't have black males or have males who are coming into the system and working with them. Get involved in the communities, tutor. There's so many things that we can do 'cause we -- It really brings tears to my eyes to see all these young people who have been incarcerated, and these who are getting involved, and they don't understand. They see television many times and think it's glamorous that you are trying to be a thug, but they don't understand the consequences, that you're gonna go to jail and things are gonna happen. So for us, get engaged, get involved, find at least one hour a week to go work with young people and you'll change them for a lifetime.
Lisnek: I can't put it any better. Tommy Dortch Jr., chairman of the 100 Black Men of America, thank you. Congratulations on the work that you do.
Dortch: My pleasure.
Lisnek: You are an inspiration.
Dortch: And I thank you for what you're doing, too.
Lisnek: And thank you for joining us, as well. If you want more great conversations with leaders in your community and across our country, just go to Comcastnewsmakers.com. It's that easy. I'm Paul Lisnek. Thanks for watching.