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The 100 Black Men Of Greater Charlotte Hope To Provoke You Into Change

This 100 Black Men billboard off Monroe Road just outside uptown Charlotte is meant to be provocative.
Jodie Valade
This 100 Black Men billboard off Monroe Road just outside uptown Charlotte is meant to be provocative.

In 1993, when there were close to 130 homicides in Charlotte, the 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte launched a billboard campaign to raise awareness about the problem and seek solutions.

Last year, Charlotte nearly hit that number again with 123 homicides. The majority of victims were Black and more than half under the age of 30. This prompted the organization to repeat its antiviolence billboard campaign, with 34 billboards erected citywide. Johnathan Hill, who works in communications and public relations for the group, says it wanted to be provocative.

Jonathan Hill
100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte
Jonathan Hill

Johnathan Hill: We wanted to really galvanize the entire city around this one particular issue. Again, there was much going on right within multiple sects and communities within Charlotte, and really the entire nation. But every night we're still turning on the news and we're losing folks in our community. So we wanted billboards placed strategically throughout the city, not just necessarily in high traffic areas. We wanted them everywhere.

Gwendolyn Glenn: So you can see them in hotspots like LaSalle Street to South Park and Myers Park and Dilworth.

Hill: That is correct. They are strategically placed all around. And we really hope that maybe there's someone that maybe owns a nonprofit or works with a particular resource group that sees it and says, "Hey, we want to get involved, we have resources available."

Glenn: And the messages themselves, they say things like "We're losing the Black race" and there is a hand holding a gun and someone running. You have messages like, "We can't make progress if we're not all here." Tell us about the inspiration for those very on-point messages that are on the billboards.

Hill: We know as we look at the numbers and really peel back the onion that disproportionately, the African American and black youths are on both sides of the coin as potentially being someone that may have incited or caused a particular incident and then also falling victim. So we want to make sure that we address both of those. And you're right, those messages are specifically captured because we know disproportionately we're the ones being impacted.

Glenn: Well, what about in terms of charges of police brutality? That has taken the lives of African American young men. Do any of them address that?

Hill: So, that's a great question and one that we've received since really prior to the campaign really initiating and definitely upticked once the billboards were up. Where we wanted to focus is how can we as a community, how can myself in my neighborhood, how can I make sure that my neighbor's son or daughter makes it home, right?

Because not all of the deaths and all the homicides and all the tragedies are not just at the hands of, let's say, one particular group like the police. It's a multidimensional issue and it's going to take multidimensional solutions in order to be able to combat it.

Glenn: Now, this campaign said that putting up the billboards, that was the first phase, and phase two is partnering with city and county organizations. What have you done in terms of that? And where are you and what kind of response are you getting?

Hill: We've done quite a bit of partnering across the community so far. We have a very strong partnership with the Office of Violence Prevention, and that office is really doing a lot. It's a newer office right in the community.

And so those partnerships, it's not just going to be the city. If you have a nonprofit, those are absolutely the partnerships that we're looking to garner and procure so that if we do have a citizen,average person that says, "Hey, you know, I need some help mentoring. I need some help in conflict resolution." Then we want to act as a hub to be able to engage and know exactly where to go as far as a resource is concerned.

Glenn: And that third phase is community sessions. Have those started? And if so, what kind of response or attendance have you had?

Hill: The first session we were able to hold on April 1 and it was a virtual session, but we had great attendance. We had just under 100 folks attend that session and we had people from all walks of life, groups that have organizations that are looking to get more information so they can help more people.

We do have slated a second and a third community panel. This second panel, we know we want that to be youth-run because it is, in fact, our youth that are not making it home. And so we want it run by the youth. We want the audience to be the youth. We want to identify and understand what organizations are out there for the youth.

Glenn: What do you say to a parent who's lost a child or maybe a youth who's afraid? What do you tell those people how this campaign can help them or how they can get involved?

Hill: We already had that occur during the first panel. They want to know, as summer approaches, what's going to be available for my child, where can I place that energy? And so our goal from 100 Black Men is to really be able to provide them resources.

Glenn: Such as?

Hill: Such as having your child come to the 100 Black Men of Charlotte, where we have one of our great programs called the Movement of Youth. And that's targeted for middle school and high school students where we mentor them every other weekend and we talk through health and wellness. We talk about economic empowerment. We talk about leadership and mentoring. The things in which our organization was built upon, our pillars. And that gives them, again, an opportunity to see maybe something that's different that they don't see every day.

So solutions like that is where we're really looking, again, to to partner with the community and identify where can we have those (partnerships), because there's a large need and that's going to require a large response from the community.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.