Local Organization Mentors Young Black Men Through Old School Values
*VPM News Intern Allison Bennett Dyche reported this story.
The Richmond chapter of Concerned Black Men has been quietly impacting the lives of residents for more than 30 years. The group’s mission is to provide young black men with mentorship and the tools necessary to make good decisions as they go through life.
On a windy Saturday afternoon at Fairfield Middle School, baseball coach Milton Parker was helping to teach a group of young men the fundamentals of the sport.
“Anyone here familiar with the game of baseball?,” Parker said. “Raise your hands. Can anybody tell me one thing that makes you real happy about baseball? Just one thing, one thing.”
Parker was invited to the field by Concerned Black Men. The Richmond chapter of the national mentoring group was started in 1986 with the goal of eliminating negative stereotypes and influences.
After learning how to throw and catch the ball, and run the bases, the teens finally got a chance at-bat. But this wasn’t just about learning how to get on base, Coach Parker was there to share some life lessons.
“But wherever you put your seed, you plant yourself, it has to be on good ground,” Parker said to the group of boys. “Understand me? And you guys are good ground. Everybody over here is good ground.”
This is just one of the activities hosted by Concerned Black Men of Richmond, Virginia, Inc. The nonprofit group works with young men from middle through high school.
“They’re starting the race a couple of laps down, so to say,” said Tim Mallory, the current president of the local chapter in Richmond.
The mentoring the organization provides to the boys is instructional, but also social.
“We kind of give them a structured rite of passage into manhood,” Mallory said.
There are many organizations that focus on mentoring and helping young people. But the members say that Concerned Black Men is different, because they offer group mentoring.
Thomas Cannon, Jr. has been involved with Concerned Black Men for nearly 30 years. He likes the hands on nature of mentoring.
“Everybody calls me TC,” Cannon said. “You know, we roll up our sleeves. We're not walking around with a bunch of ties and neckties and suits on and all, you know. So we dress just like the boys, except for we do not wear sagging pants, of course.”
One of the participants is high school junior Malik Mayo. He’s been with the group for seven years. “If someone doesn’t have someone to look up to, then this is the program to be in,” Mayo said of his involvement with Concerned Black Men of Richmond.
Students tackle different topic areas with their mentors, like public speaking and career development. The organization is free for participants, and the group is always in search of new mentors. Mallory has the goal of doubling the mentor membership during his presidency.
“Because we’re older guys, we’re trying to get some younger people in who are more abreast of the social media aspect of it,” Mallory said.
Each summer, the mentors and students gather for a picnic. Volunteers dish up heaping plates of catered barbeque and beans. It’s a way for them to recognize what they’ve accomplished during the year. Some of their alumni return for the celebration as well.
Torian Jones is majoring in film at Old Dominion University. He spent nine years as a member of Concerned Black Men before heading off to college.
“So for two Saturdays out of the month, I really got to feel like I was a part of something bigger,” Jones said.
Being mentored by someone who looked like him helped shape the path he’s on now, he said.
“Because growing up you might see, like on the news or in movies, black people always being like the criminal or maybe the bad guy and stuff like that,” Jones said. “So when you come to CBM, it's these guys all have jobs. They go to work 8 to 5 every Monday through Friday, and then they take time out of their days on weekends to come talk to us.”
He said the mentors are like teachers, but without a classroom. With 30 chapters nationwide, Concerned Black Men is working to change the narrative for young black men across the country.
“How can you be something if you can't see something?” Mallory pointed out. “The reason that they want to be football players and basketball players is that's what they see. And so they can relate to that.”
Mallory said the program’s impact isn’t just on the individual. It’s bigger. In fact, some of the members have even returned to serve as mentors themselves.
“And that's the way we look at it,” Mallory said. “Impact the person, you’ll impact the community, and you’ll impact the world.”
Starting in September, Concerned Black Men of Richmond will welcome the next group of mentees, who Mallory hopes will inspire change in their schools, communities and the world around them.