Thomas Dortch Jr., a community activist and national chairman of the 100 Black Men of America organization, brought his call for unity to Bloomington as he made a guest appearance at the local chapter’s 10th annual excellence gala.
Guests gathered Saturday at the Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center to watch the 100 Black Men of Central Illinois chapter present community awards and hear Dortch speak.
“In order for the black community to progress we have to dispel the Willie Lynch syndrome that pitted the older man against the younger, the light complexion against the dark complexion, and man against women,” Dortch said. “Black people, if we're going to make it in this country, we have to be unified.”
The night began with a social hour as attendees networked. The highlight came as members presented the Willie Brown Community Icon Award to influencers Michael Jones and Carl Sneed of Bloomington, along with other honorary awards to high-profile organizations in the area.
Illinois State University senior and criminal justice major Reginald Burcy said dressing the part and attending the event was a life-changing experience.
“I’m interning at the (McLean County) public defender's office under Carla Barnes, and I'm so grateful she invited me to this event. I had no idea about this organization before I came, but after today my entire mindset and outlook has changed,” Burcy said.
“Being from the south side of Chicago, the only time I've worn a suit this year was for a wedding or a funeral, but after getting dressed up today, being given respect because I look the part and seeing so many successful black men and women speak about their endeavors while teaching us what we can do to get on the same path, makes me hungry for success,” he said. “I graduate in December and this was the motivation I needed to keep moving forward.”
100 Black Men of Central Illinois members are men who work in white-collar professions and mentor black male youths. They are one of the 116 chapters part of the national organization. The organization as a whole was founded as a result of solidarity between African American men during a time of racial tension in New York City.
In 1963 the NYPD enforced a rule that black police officers could not arrest white citizens and if a white citizen broke the law; the black police officer had to be accompanied by a white officer in order to make the arrest. This called civil rights activists to speak up.
“So the late Jackie Robinson, former mayor of New York David Dinkins, and others came together to change the paradigm in the city and change the way law enforcement operated," Dortch said.
From there the men took on other social issues and later decided to stay together.
“David Dinkins is the one who came up with our name. He said, ‘We'll call ourselves what we are, 100 black men,’ so today with almost 8,000 members and over 125,000 youths in the organization, we're still going strong,” Dortch said.
African American men are often stereotyped to be criminals and are most credited for their roles in sports or entertainment.
Jerome Maddox, president of the Central Illinois chapter of 100 Black Men, said the organization understood the barriers placed on a black youth, so members made it their duty to take young men under their wings and provide mentorship in an effort to dispel the stereotype and educate on other pathways to success.
“Our organization was started by a group of men wanting to give back to their communities, while also helping African American youth find a different path. With that goal as a whole, we’ve had a lot of disparities but have made sure to stay grounded. If we can continue to teach what we know and teach how to live in this country with all the obstacles and challenges, it makes a difference,” Maddox said.
“One reason some youths lose hope is because of their environments. Somebody not being consistent with what they say they’ll do, not having a role model, or even someone to talk to in times of trouble can be the reason why many youths go down the wrong path. So what we found is that through consistency, being there when we say we're going to be there, and giving them an outlet, brings hope,” he said.
“Our motto is, ‘What they see is what they'll be,' and we live by that. So if we tell you we’re going to be somewhere at a certain time, or we're going to do this with you, then we do it and that's the biggest thing,” Maddox said.
Right now the organization is growing its chapter in Peoria and wants to start another in Champaign and Decatur. In the future the organization wants to extend its outreach to international countries as they continue to promote solidarity.
“We're looking in areas that don't have chapters because young black boys need positive female role models and young ladies need positive male role models, so overall we plan to expand even more,” Dortch said.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to correct the name of Carl Sneed.
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