Men suit up for school to engage, inspire kids

Posted at 5:01 AM, Sep 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-22 05:01:23-04

100 Rising started with a glance on Facebook that led not just to a line of some 100 men in suits who helped set the tone for the first day of school at Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy but a long-term mentorship program and, possibly, some lifetime connections.

Robert Anthony, an insurance agent whose sister, Tiffany Williams, is principal of CCPA, said he happened to see a Facebook post from the Atlanta chapter of 100 Black Men, a national organization founded in 1963 that seeks positive, lasting roles for black men in their communities. The group’s Atlanta chapter called on 100 African-American men to dress in suits and greet students in a show of pride. The idea is that self-image has a lot to do with what you see around you; that when students see and engage with African-American men in suits, they’re more likely to envision themselves that way. And they will see strength in their community.

Anthony thought he could help his sister’s school with a similar event. Established in 1999, CCPA is a K–12 charter school in the West End with an enrollment of about 900 students, the majority of whom are African American, many lower-income; 5 percent to 8 percent are Hispanic. The school is at 1425 Linn St.

Tiffany Williams said her brother called her and said, “‘Hey, I’d like to try this. Do you think we could get a hundred or more men out just to greet the kids, to come to school?… I think it would be a great thing, something positive to show the students.’

“And I said, ‘Absolutely, let’s go for it. I am also going to attach a mentor sign-up sheet, because I need some help down here. I want kids to have mentors, I want them to get some tutoring, and we need some volunteers down here.’”

GALLERY: See photos of 100 Rising at CCPA’s website.

One aspect of the school’s program is building “a legacy of relationships,” Williams said, to support kids’ academic and social well-being. “We like to build a relationship with our surrounding community.”

So they spread the word that there would be a meet-and-greet at school: Men in suits would welcome students back to school on Aug. 24, the first day of the 2015–16 school year. The men would make the kids feel supported, and maybe the school would get a few volunteers out of the event. They named the event 100 Rising in reference to their inspiration, 100 Black Men.

They focused on men for two reasons: First, most of their volunteers were women — mothers and grandmothers; second, Williams said, “I think the kids need more positive male role models in their lives. There are so many negative images on TV of men, especially men of color in our community, and we thought it would be a good idea for them to see men of color doing something positive and reaching out to them.”

“[I]f I get 20 people I am going to be jumping-up-and-down excited.”

— Tiffany Williams, principal,

Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy

Despite the event's name, Williams didn’t expect anywhere near 100 men to show up. “I told my brother, ‘Let’s see what we can get started, but if I get 20 people I am going to be jumping-up-and-down excited.”

When Aug. 24 came, she had plenty of cause to start jumping: More than 100 men were estimated to have shown up, among them then-Cincinnati Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell. The turnout was strong enough that they had the men break into three groups, each group to one of the campus’ three buildings.

“When I saw the outcome, it was awesome; when I saw our former chief Blackwell get out of the car and just step in line, that was awesome. He didn’t contact us and say, ‘Hey I’m coming.’ He didn’t use it as a photo op. He just got out of an unmarked car, and I just happened to look at the crosswalk and say, ‘Is that the police chief walking across the street?’...

“We had some other policemen join. We had some workers on the street. I think they were working for the waterworks company. They said ‘We want to join this line. [But] we don’t have our suits.’ And I said, ‘It’s OK, you have your work clothes on — join in.’”

VIDEO: Experience 100 Rising in this Facebook video.

Williams described that day as “a great scene, a great moment. We took that moment further,” by using it as an opportunity to continue the men’s investment in the students’ success. Roughly 70 participants signed up to be volunteers, she said. Of that number, about a third attended the school’s first mentorship training session, which was held on a weekday.

At first, the concept was limited to male mentors. Some women called and offered to mentor, too, and Williams signed them up. “I will never turn away a volunteer,” she said.

The next training session will be Saturday. After that meeting mentors will be matched with students from sixth through 12 grades.

Williams said the school is asking mentors for a minimum commitment of meeting with their student once every other week, with weekly meetings being ideal. “Consistency is important,” she said, “so we’re not letting any little ones down. I don’t want to break any hearts.”

She said mentors will help with tutoring or homework. They might read to their student, though the benefit is intended to be broader. “Just the social aspect of having another positive role model,” Williams said, “someone they can turn to talk about issues they may be having, or something good that’s happening … and maybe there’s no one at home to share that with.”

“We hope to further the program and have mentor events,” if sponsors can be secured, she said, with “receptions and get Reds or Bengals tickets. I think those outside activities would help a mentor build a relationship.”