The dozens of people inside the ballroom at the Renaissance Atlanta Waverly Hotel listened intently as Keefe Gordon began telling his story. A senior mentee with 100 Black Men of South Atlanta, Inc., Gordon has been in the program since he was an eighth-grader, and is an example of what can happen when mentors come into the lives of young Black men in need of leadership.
Gordon was tasked with giving the invocation and blessing the food, and his story put an exclamation on the event’s purpose. His father was deported in 2018, and his mother, who was in attendance, was tasked with being a single parent of a young, Black man. His mother enrolled him in the 100 Black Men of American mentorship program, and four years later, he was demonstrating the kind of leadership that the program is known for.
Before asking all of the mothers in the room to please stand for recognition, Gordon said about his fellow mentees: “You don’t have to be afraid to be Black, because Black is powerful.”
The 100 Black Men of Atlanta’s South Metro Atlanta Celebration of Excellence returned to in-person gathering Saturday night after two years of remote celebrations. 11Alive news anchor Aisha Howard and author Michelle Taylor Willis were mistresses of ceremonies, and 100 Black Men of America, Inc. chairman Thomas Dortch, via video, gave the welcoming remarks.
The evening’s keynote speaker, public intellectual and professor Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, touched on a number of topics under the banner of the “State of Black America.” Dyson spoke to the room full of parents, children and mentors about voter suppression, the 1619 Project, and the recent U.S. Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision leak, among other subjects.
As per usual, Dyson blended hip-hop and R&B lyrics into a sermon-like diatribe about the boys in the room that have gone through the yearslong 100 Black Men of South Metro Atlanta, Inc. mentorship process. “We have to claim these boys like you are doing tonight,” said Dyson. “The larger community has to be celebrated. We have to love our children so that they can thrive.”
Also among the topics of discussion were local politics and the upcoming midterm elections. Regarding Republican senatorial candidate Herscel Walker, a former University of Georgia star running back and National Football League player, Dyson asked that he “stick to the gridiron.” The comment drew laughs and applause from what felt like a pro-Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA) room.
The young men being celebrated Saturday night are preparing to enter Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and local universities, on either full or partial scholarships. Program graduate Ryan Kennedy Hendricks plans to attend Georgia State University and major in journalism. Escorted by his parents, Floyd and Phyllis Hendricks, Ryan traveled to Africa for a missionary trip, where he volunteered at an orphanage during his time as a 100 Black Men mentee.
New chapter president-elect Joe Swanson was introduced, and current president and CEO, Rafiq Ahmad, who was honored earlier in the evening, delivered the closing remarks.
The event was sponsored by Georgia-Pacific, Wells Fargo, Chick-fil-A, Kroger, Publix Super Markets Charities, Pepsi and Southwest Airlines, among others.