On August 14, 2017, over 100 black men from Pasadena and Altadena gathered at Altadena Elementary, McKinley Middle School and John Muir High School to welcome students as they returned to begin the new school year. Lining up on both sides of the entrance, the men offered kids high fives and encouragement as they made their way inside. This is an event held throughout the United States, put on by members of 100 Black Men of America and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Incorporated, and is called 100 Black Men Welcome Day.
The purpose of this event is to encourage students to stay in school and complete their high school education. As this can be especially difficult for young African American men, 100 Black Men Welcome Day brings together men from a number of successful professions (lawyers, professional athletes, police officers, etc.) and alumni of the high school to encourage these young men that they can make it through their education and become successful in their own lives.
This event does not serve simply as a moment of encouragement for these students, but is also a way of connecting students to mentors and organizations within their community. As William Syms, the coordinator of 100 BMWD in Pasadena, said, “Students and the community want more support. That is part of the reason we built a database of participants to provide mentoring opportunities and plug event participants into local organizations. This isn’t about one day, it’s about creating critical mass and continuing the work… The men that make up this team are dedicated to the work of making this community better every day. The welcome day is just one day where we join together to make sure our students know we are here. ”
Many of the men present for 100 Black Men Welcome Day run other events and organizations designed to empower the youth in their community. These include but are not limited to NBA’s Ryan Hollin’s Basketball Camp held every summer in Pasadena, Ideal Youth’s job training and internship program that has employed over 1000 young people since 2007, and The Men of First AME who organize multiple events annually promoting men’s health and deeper spiritual connections with God.
Syms adds, “We have people like Horace Wormely, an international basketball star who mentors local athletes, helping them succeed in college; Bertral Washington, the Chief of the fire department who has opened fire stations to the community to educate them of neighborhood and home safety; Rodney D. Wallace, a retired police sergeant who educates young people about their rights and safe interactions with law enforcement; Stefan Taylor and Jonathan Franklin, local insurance agents who host monthly financial awareness seminars for young people and work with the John Muir Baseball Team; and Gheren Vitte, head of Marketing for Jason Markk, who not only donates time through organizations like NATHA (Neighbors Acting Together Helping All), but is a constant presence on college campuses throughout Southern California via the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.
As we are all aware in the current social/political climate, the effects of systemic racism can still be felt throughout the United States, and one of the places which this can be clearly seen is, sadly, within the educational system. Speaking to the history of Pasadena’s schools, Syms explains, “Pasadena is the city with more private schools per capita than any other district in the country. It was one of the last school districts to integrate, and as soon as we integrated the schools they became segregated again, this time by the public/private system. Pasadena is the place where we can raise 50 million for a tea house, but the school district has a 10 million dollar deficit.” With most students whose families can afford it being sent to the hundreds of private schools in Pasadena, public schools are left without necessary funding as the care and attention of the public eye is placed upon the private schools.
As the men of 100 Black Men Welcome Day greeted students making their way inside, it was clear from the students’ faces that this outreach was appreciated. To know that they have a community around them who support them and want them to succeed is something they will be able to hold onto even when things get tough.
For more information on 100 BMWD or how you can get involved, please visit their website.
To watch interviews featuring those that participated in the Pasadena/Altadena 100 Black Men Welcome Day this week, be sure and watch the video below!
Special Thanks to:
Yemi KuKu (Yemididit on Instagram) for all photos
Pasadena Black Pages for video report