YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

An Early Push in Right Direction--College : The Nonprofit 100 Black Men Service Organization Has Begun an Ambitious 4-Year Project That Is Providing Tutors, Mentors and Encouragement to 2,000 Ninth-Graders in 7 Local School Districts

December 18, 1986|GARY LIBMAN

Even among a rapt audience sitting motionless watching a movie premiere, Fred Calloway cannot relax and stop thinking about the 100 Black Men.

As the black teen-age protagonist in "Native Son," the movie based on Richard Wright's novel, leaves the rat-infested ghetto room he shares with his family in the 1930s and heads outside to his doom, Calloway turns and whispers:

"Many black kids are still living four, five, six in a room. That's the kind of kids we need to interact with. We need to show them who we are and what we have achieved. And we need to put in place the vehicles for them to succeed."

It is not unusual for Calloway, a mirror and lamp manufacturer and multiple property owner, to be thinking about the 100 Black Men of Los Angeles Inc. As president and a charter member of the group, which started in 1981, he said he spends 30% of each working day on the nonprofit organization's activities.

That alone could keep him busy. The group, with a membership of 182 well-to-do black males including actor Sidney Poitier and ex-heavyweight boxing champion Ken Norton, started as a social organization but quickly got involved with the black community. In recent years, Calloway said, it has raised more than $90,000 in the fight against sickle-cell anemia and approximately $50,000 for the United Negro College Fund. It annually awards 25 scholarships of $1,000 each to black college students and distributes 500 turkeys to needy families at Christmas.

Now the group has started its most ambitious project: pledging $100,000 a year for the next four years to provide tutors, mentors and other encouragement for 2,000 promising black ninth-graders in the Los Angeles area. The program began last summer. (Another group will not be started until organizers see how the program works.)

Other black organizations have pledged additional funds to help youngsters from the Los Angeles, Compton, Inglewood, Lynwood, Pasadena, Pomona and Santa Monica school districts.

The 100 Black Men hope that the Young Black Scholars, chosen because they had B or better grade averages in the eighth grade, will emerge from high school in four years with grades high enough to enter the University of California system, helping to build leaders for the local black community.

Calloway said Young Black Scholars developed after a study by the California Post Secondary Commission showed that only 3.6% of the state's 1983 black high school graduates qualified for the UC system. If it weren't bad enough that only 838 out of 23,000 graduates were eligible, a third of those high school graduates finished with less than a C average, said Winston Doby, vice chancellor for student affairs at UCLA.

A conference convened by Doby's office to study those dismal statistics recommended the formation of Young Black Scholars, and the 100 Black Men's education committee, chaired by educator and investor Warren Valdry, stepped in to help get it going.

In a high-rise Westwood office building, Young Black Scholars administrator Judith Mayes and her staff scrutinize regular student progress reports.

After a Westchester High School student reported that his English grade was falling below C, Mayes called the boy's parent and made this notation on a report the student had returned:

"Student is applying himself more because parents are demanding improvement. The parental demand is that he must improve his grades to continue to play football."

As she studied reports, the telephone rang. A mother was seeking a tutor for her son who was practicing basketball during the afternoon when school tutors were available. Mayes' assistant, Steven Berry, supplied names of two private tutors and invited the mother to call back for more if they didn't work out.

While Mayes works to help students from her office, many strive to help themselves. On Friday afternoons while many of her classmates play or shop, Dava Taylor, 14, invites friends to her home to study French and algebra.

Late one recent day the students from John Burroughs Junior High School sat around Taylor's thick, wood dining table, a basket of fruit and nuts in the center, quizzing each other on French vocabulary.

"So many intelligent black students get wasted because no one ever pushed them and told them they were great," said Taylor, who wants to be a singer or an entertainment lawyer.

"In this program they tell you how interesting you are and the things you can have if you just hit the books. When I found out I was a member I was flattered because no one except Mom and Dad has ever told me how smart I was. It gives you people you can model yourselves after."

Local educators seem equally enthusiastic.

"It's absolutely a wonderful program," said Mary Voiles, principal at Los Angeles' John Muir Junior High School, where about 30 students are involved in the project. "It's overdue. . . . It will take youngsters that have potential and provide academic support and assistance and ensure that they are ready to go to college. . . ."

Los Angeles Times Articles