Black community groups mentor youths, support businesses
By Jay Nachman
“What they see is what they’ll be” is the tagline of 100 Black Men Philadelphia (BMP), the local chapter of a national organization that supports the city’s Black youth by mentoring these future leaders. This illustrious national organization was founded in 1963 by former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and baseball legend Jackie Robinson, among others.
The organization and others like it are a response and a corrective to the history of mistreatment against Blacks in the United States, according to 100 BMP President and Board Chair Joel Wilson, 53, of Overbrook Park. In addition to slavery, Black people have suffered from government-sanctioned discrimination in all areas of life, including the economic, political and criminal justice systems.
“The problems are still here,” Wilson said. “So, we absolutely need civic organizations, like 100 Black Men, to try to fill that gap, to try to build that bridge, to help more Black folks so that they can actually participate in the good that America does have. This country has a tremendous amount of great opportunities. That’s why so many (people from other countries) to this day still come here. What we want is Black citizens to be able to fully participate in the opportunities available, just like everyone else.”
In developing ideals, strategies and programs for the local chapter, 100 BMP pioneers aligned themselves with other city organizations. Philadelphia’s problems that impact the Black community, including gun violence, crime and children leaving schools, cannot be handled by 100 BMP. This thinking led to the creation of the Minority Entrepreneur Apprentice Program, where BMP partnered with Dobbins Technical and Strawberry Mansion High Schools in this exciting pilot project that will teach young men the intricacies of real estate development.
The Honickman Center, a state-of-the-art community center in North Philadelphia, works with 100 BMP to provide reading programs to youngsters in the 3rd grade. Staff at Honickman understand the need to reach and develop these children at an early age.
100 BMP provides opportunities based around five pillars:
- Leadership: Young men work on character, self-awareness, communication, conflict resolution, developmental and time management skills, social engagement, networking and goal setting.
- Education: Activities are structured to facilitate intellectual growth and development.
- Health & Wellness is a vital component of a thriving community. 100 BMP is concerned about the well-being of the whole community and the whole person: physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual.
- Mentorship: Trained and dedicated mentors proudly share their expertise, time, guidance and influence to help young Black men navigate through victories and challenges on the road to adulthood.
- Economic empowerment: Improving the financial literacy of youth at an early age helps to change the course of their whole lives and can even improve entire communities. Financial programs include a junior investment program, a hands-on banking and money management class for middle and high school students, and a financial adviser training program.
To become a volunteer, mentor or charter member, contact BMP at 267-238-2900 or 100BlackMenPhilly.org.
Supporting Black business growth
Pamela Thornton’s goal for her baking business, Poundcake Heaven, is simply stated: to keep a dying legacy alive.
“When we grew up, our mothers and grandmothers used to do a lot of baking and cooking,” said Thornton, 60, of Yeadon. “As I grew older, I found that was going away.”
To help her business grow, Thornton turned to the African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE (AACC), which helped her with advertising, connected her with vendors and customers, and provided her with other assistance.
The AACC is among several organizations that are resources for the Black community in Philadelphia. These businesses understand the culture of the Black community and the challenges that it faces.
“In our culture, we work so very hard to get ahead, and we just don’t always get the support that we need,” said Thornton, who bakes approximately 750 cakes a month and has three stores – in Yeadon, Kensington and West Philadelphia, which is currently undergoing renovation.
“Through the African-American Chamber of Commerce, I’m able to reach out to those people in my culture to say, ‘Hey, look, you can come to me when you want that old-fashioned yellow cake with chocolate icing, or that coconut cake or that peach cobbler – the things that our mothers used to make,’ Thornton said.
“One of the things that we’re not good at is passing along things that are in our family that we really value. I’m trying to do that, and I know through the chamber I can continue to reach some of my peers in my culture.”
Bleu Kind, 33, opened her coffee and tea house, Franny Lou’s Porch, in 2015. Named after Frances E. W. Harper, who helped enslaved people escape through the Underground Railroad and who is considered the founder of Black journalism, and Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, Kind calls her shop a window and catalyst for the Black community, as well as other marginalized peoples.
“There are not a lot of places that are openly Black spaces,” Kind said.
With its African-inspired textiles, the names she gives her lattes and the music she plays, Kind creates a space of representation. “It is a place for the other, as well as a joyful place and a place of acceptance,” she said. “People are here to be happy.”
Black community resources
100 Black Men Philadelphia seeks to educate and empower our youth, their families and our community through volunteerism and charter membership: 267-238-2900, ext. 3 | 100BlackMenPhilly.org
African-American Chamber of Commerce of PA, NJ and DE supports the economic empowerment and growth of Black-owned businesses in Greater Philadelphia: 215-751-9501 | aachamber.com
The Black Male Resource Finder is a digital platform to help men and boys of color in Philadelphia access City and community resources more effectively: phila.gov/obme/resources | Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement: 215-686-0332
Coalition of African and Caribbean Communities – Philadelphia facilitates access to health and social services, provides cultural and educational programming, promotes economic development, provides immigration legal assistance, and advocates on issues of concern for the community: 215-787-1302 | africom-philly.org
Jay Nachman is a freelance writer in Philadelphia who tells stories for a variety of clients.