The “100 Black Men of Louisville” are best known for their prestigious annual Derby Gala. The formal ballroom event takes place the Thursday before the running of the Kentucky Derby and typically brings out the “who’s who” from Louisville’s prominent African-American community.
This year the Gala took place on May 4th, in the ballroom of Louisville’s luxurious Galt House hotel and featured the legendary R&B group “The O’Jay’s”.
The annual event is a night of elegance and entertainment – with the purpose of raising funds for educational programs and college scholarships for local African-American teens.
Each year the Gala draws 900-1100 people and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for the education of young African-Americans. Reggie Gresham, the president of the 100 Black Men of Louisville, explains that the disbursement of those funds is a two-fold process.
“Most of those dollars go back to the programs and the actual scholarships that we have and also the remaining dollars have to cover the expenses to put the Gala on.” – Reggie Gresham
The 100 Black Men of Louisville have a long-standing partnership with Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky. That partnership consists of providing year-long mentoring programs, for young black males, at designated elementary, middle and high schools.
“We give mentoring programs back to young black males… And we do that at all grade levels, from elementary – to middle school – to high school – to college. We’re really entrenched at Jefferson County Public Schools… We sit down with teachers and counselors at those schools and identify kids that are struggling through just basic self-esteem issues – to reading at a lower grade level than they should be.” -Reggie Gresham
In addition, the 100 Black Men of Louisville also have partnerships with certain colleges and universities across the country. These partnerships enable the organization to provide college scholarships to Louisville teens who meet the necessary criteria.
On Sunday, April 29, 2017, the 100 Black Men of Louisville held their annual “Scholarship Banquet” at Birracibo’s Pizza on 4th Street Live at 1pm. Twenty high school seniors received college scholarships ranging from a thousand dollars – to four-year full-ride opportunities with participating colleges.
The scholarships awarded to recipients at this year’s banquet were created from funds raised a year earlier, in conjunction with the 2016 – 100 Black Men Annual Derby Gala.
This year, a total of $355k in college scholarships were given to the twenty local high school seniors and the organization has given $1.3 million in college scholarships to local high school seniors over the past three years.
The unique concept about the programs offered by the 100 Black Men of Louisville is that, although their mentoring programs focus on African-American males – their scholarships are available to any local high school senior, of any race & sex, who meet the established criteria.
The 100 Black Men of Louisville offer several other programs for young black males that exist outside the confines of the public schools that they mentor in.
In 2016, the organization held a bootcamp at the Southwick Community Center. The first series of the camp served as an ACT Test prep class. A test expert advised students of the “do’s & don’ts” when taking the ACT.
The second series focused on the “do’s & don’ts” in regards to financial aid. Students were educated on how to apply for scholarships and grants, as well as borrowing responsibly for their education.
Additionally, representatives from 7-8 colleges and universities attended the bootcamp and waived the application fee for those high school seniors who chose to apply to their schools. The application fees typically range from $50 – $200.
Throughout the process of mentoring, the organization has discovered that many students excel very well academically when given the opportunity to pursue higher education – but often struggle with being homesick once they arrive at college.
It’s often an overlooked reality but many young black males, who have pretty much been confined to their communities for their entire lives, often have trouble adapting to life at predominantly white colleges and universities.
To address that concern, the 100 Black of Louisville created a bootcamp focusing on “How to survive at a predominately white college.” Students would visit colleges during this bootcamp, to experience the unknown, as opposed to having it all thrown at them once they arrive at college.
The organization has also formed the “Collegiate 100” which is based out of the University of Louisville and is designed to mentor black male college students.
“We try to take collegiate kids and help them mentor with our high school kids – and then have our high school kids mentor with our middle school kids and our middle school kids mentor with elementary school kids.” – Reggie Gresham
The newest program being launched by the 100 Black Men of Louisville is called C.O.R.E. The program begins June 3, 2017, and will select 15-20 students, from participating schools, for job shadowing.
Gresham emphasizes that children often become what they see. He explains that the C.O.R.E. plans to introduce young people to professions that they didn’t know existed, by allowing them to shadow professionals at their workplace.
Gresham gives an example of how influential this type of exposure can be, by referring to a field trip that he took a group of students on, a few years ago.
“We have a great relationship with UPS. A couple of years ago we took 30 kids out to UPS and what was really unique about that is, they ask them three simple questions.”
1. Have you ever heard of UPS?
2. Would you like to be a pilot?
3. Would you like to work for UPS?
“At the beginning all the kids said, No…No…No. So, it was a resounding No for all the kids…
They did a presentation about UPS, showed them the actual simulator – let them get into the simulator and ride around in it…
Right after that, they asked the same three questions and the answers were a resounding, Yes…Yes…Yes…
And that just goes to our motto, which is: What they see is what the become.” – Reggie Gresham
Inspiring and mentoring young black males is what the 100 Black Men of Louisville are all about. The organization currently has 50 members who are primarily black professionals. The member roster consists of attorneys, pilots, doctors, lawyers, business owners, professors, accountants and more.
The Louisville chapter has existed for the past 26 years and was the 6th chapter established out of the current 60 national and 4 international chapters.
Despite their wide reach, the organization understands that they can’t reach every young person. With only 50 members, many are so dedicated, that they find themselves committing several hours each week to mentoring programs at local schools – in addition to their daily 9-5 jobs. This is a reality the organization’s treasurer, Jerry Ledbetter, knows all too well.
“There’s a whole lot more demand than supply. Reggie is at Valley and I actually mentor at T.J. Middle School once a week. I get emails all the time from people asking how can they get their kid into the mentoring program.” – Jerry Ledbetter
For more information about the 100 Black Men of Louisville – access their website at 100bmol.org.