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Mentor group grows, takes top national honor

A local organization aimed at bolstering academic achievement has reached the top of the class.

The central Virginia Chapter of 100 Black Men—a group working to close the achievement gap—has been named Chapter of the Year for Leadership and Education by 100 Black Men of America.

“We see this as a tremendous honor,” said Bernard Hairston, chapter president and executive director of community engagement for Albemarle County Public Schools. “Personally I see it as something as extremely unique for such a young chapter.”

Marvin Dickerson, who will be named vice chairman of 100 Black Men of America Friday, praised the central Virginia Chapter.

“The [central Virginia] Chapter competed,” Dickerson said of the initiative that has now served over 600 students. “They weren’t given the award.”

“I remember when this program started,” Dickerson added, “and I salute the men of 100 Black Men of Central Virginia for having a positive impact that will yield dividends years down the road.”

Now in its sixth year, 100 Black Men of Central Virginia engages African-American males as young as the fifth grade, and offers them one-to-one mentoring from members of the community.

The group has taken mentees to visit college campuses, to tour the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and has even launched a program called M-Cubed, which helps increase the numbers of African-American males who complete Algebra I in middle school.  

“As a Caucasian woman raising African-
American children, I’m honored that men
like Dr. Hairston will volunteer their time
and be role models,” Beidler said. “I can
give him everything but that.”

Algebra I is seen as a course that largely determines a student’s future academic success, and Schools officials have said that they would like to see as many students as possible passing the class before entering high school.

100 Black Men’s mentors have seen the program develop and academic performance rise.

On math Standards of Learning exams, 80 points separated African-American males from their white counterparts in 2008. By 2010, the average African-American male’s score jumped 24 points.

Wendell Green, a mentor and teacher at Albemarle High School, said he’s seen the program mature over time.

“Initially, people weren’t sure what we were about, but now that we’ve done so many group activities…and established so many programs, people are wanting to find out more about us,” Green said.

In addition to M-Cubed and the cultural events, the group has also started a health and wellness program and an economic empowerment initiative to teach young people about financial responsibility.

Josh Beidler, who started as a fifth-grader, said 100 Black Men has helped him grow.

“Every summer I would go to the program, and they would help you with your math skills and show you where you were really,” the now freshman at Albemarle High School said. “I remember that after my first year I moved up a math grade level.”

“You also get to know a lot of important African-American leaders in the community,” Beidler added. “It’s really nice to see someone as important as they are wanting to spend time with us.”

His mother, Jeannie Beidler, agreed.

“As a Caucasian woman raising African-American children, I’m honored that men like Dr. Hairston will volunteer their time and be role models,” Beidler said. “I can give him everything but that.”

Hairston said the Chapter is now seeing more high school students wanting to work with the younger grades.

“For example, during our summer academy we had three students who had come through the middle school program return as teacher assistants to give,” Hairston said. “I think that adds to our staying power.”