In 1963, a group of African-American men began meeting to improve the conditions in their community.
Forty-seven years later, in 2010, thousands of African-American men and women will continue those meetings. But for the first time, the conference will take place in the Greater Fort Lauderdale area.
“We are fully excited about the 24th annual conference’’ of the 100 Black Men of America, said Dennis Wright, president of the organization’s Greater Fort Lauderdale chapter.
The international nonprofit will gather at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood next June 16-20 with a heavy focus on mentoring young minds.
“The 100 Black Men of America leadership team will work with local organizations, local leaders, and corporations with a focus on community empowerment,’’ Wright said during a press conference on Aug. 20 at the Diplomat. “It means that 300-plus youths who will embark on this city will be exposed to a South Florida lifestyle that I am very proud of. It means that the community will be able to witness the impact of an organization comprised of hardworking, dedicated African-American men.’’
As for the youth in the community, “What they see is what they’ll be,’’ said Dwayne A. Crawford, senior vice president of the Atlanta-based, 100 Black Men of America.
When young people see others with positive backgrounds who look like them, they will want to emulate them, Crawford said.
“We have children from all walks of life, not just African-American children,’’ he said. “We take on any child that needs a positive role model.’’
The organization has nearly 120 chapters in the United States, England and the Caribbean with more than 10,000 members. About 7,000 people are expected to attend the 2010 conference, which will offer entertainment as well as workshops on issues including education, health and wellness, economic empowerment and mentoring relationships.
The economic impact is expected to be about $5 million, but it will be much more than having fun in the South Florida sun.
“We made a commitment that we would do more than just spend our money here,’’ said Albert E. Dotson Jr., chairman of 100 Black Men of America. “We want to make sure we have a sustainable social impact in the community that the community can see.”
Dotson continued: “We plan to come to this hotel in this county in this community, convene and leave here with the deposit in this community that we hope will help the community in Greater Fort Lauderdale to grow. We appreciate the leadership that’s here. …When we leave in 2010, we will leave it in your hands and we will do our part to leave it better off.’’
Mentoring, he said, will be the focus.
“We change lives when we mentor,’’ he said. “That will be the theme of our annual conference in 2010. We’re coming here to celebrate what the 100 Black Men is known for, and that is mentoring. There’s no better place to do that.”
Wayne Lovett, a mentor and chairperson of education for the Greater Fort Lauderdale chapter, said he understands that some young men go down the wrong path because their mothers are working two jobs and their fathers are absent.
“We show them that the life they’re living right now is not going to help them in the future,’’ Lovett said. “We talk to them about being a better person, that’s the main thing. It’s mostly for boys from elementary to high school. Some come in with a chip on their shoulder and that chip falls off. They realize it’s not all about the streets. It’s about preparing yourself for the future.’’
He continued, “The national conference is going to be a wonderful thing. We’re looking at showing the community that we’re here to help.
You heard about the young man in Miami, 15 years old, on a killing spree. We shouldn’t have that …. Where’s the mentor in his life to show him the positive things?’’
The organization may be a nonprofit, but there are organizations around the world that would kill for their profits, said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The bottom line is helping children graduate from high school and go on to college, and helping families stay intact, she said.
“That is the kind of profitability that makes this country and makes this community as strong as it is,’’ Grossman said. “This is a crown that we hope we’re tall enough to wear. It’s a very exciting moment for us. We have been working diligently for a dozen years to build our business to where a group as prestigious as 100 Black Men would consider coming to Fort Lauderdale for a national meeting.’’
As the Super Bowl wraps up in February, we’ll be “getting ready for the big stuff,’’ Grossman said.
Photo: Al Dotson Jr.