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100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte coach mentees for competition at their national conference

100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte members and mentee attend the national conference in Atlanta. (L-R) Local chapter president and CEO Aaron Means, mentee-of-the-year and African American history competitor Jermaine Banks and history coach and communications officer Don Lewis.
100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte
100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte members and mentee attend the national conference in Atlanta. (L-R) Local chapter president and CEO Aaron Means, mentee-of-the-year and African American history competitor Jermaine Banks and history coach and communications officer Don Lewis.

As major shifts continue in the political landscape, in education and the economy, the 100 Black Men of America is focusing on preparing its members and the youth they mentor at their 38th annual conference in Atlanta this week.

Members of the Charlotte chapter are joining the thousands of Black men from around the country at the four-day event. Aaron Means, president and CEO of 100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte says some of the nearly 300 young Black students they mentor here, traveled to the conference to participate in workshops and an academic competition. Means tells WFAE’s Gwendolyn Glenn that the trip is a much-needed, new experience for some of the mentees.

Aaron Means: They get to meet thousands of like-minded students that they wouldn't ordinarily meet, you know, in their natural environment. They're all trying to improve themselves. And it's just a fantastic experience. Now, the students that we took have participated in a couple of our programs, one being Dollars and Cents and the other one being the African American history content.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Tell me about those two programs.

Means: The dollars and cents program, the kids have to create an economic scenario in which say, for instance, they've got a young man who's wanting to go to college and say he's got a part-time job, he has an old car and he's trying to make ends meet. So, what the kids do is they'll come up with an investment solution on how he can make ends meet and come out with a little bit of money on the back end. It's just a good base of economic sound principles that the program tries to teach. In the African American history program, they've got a book of about 1,300 pages and the questions in the competition here are selected from any place in that book, and the students have to read the book and the moderator will ask questions, and you don't know where the question is going to come from.

Glenn: How many students are involved in the competitions from these two programs?

Means: We had six.

Glenn: In both the finance and the history?

Means: No, the finance team did not compete at the conference because they only take the top three teams. What happens is they have to put their program together and submit it to national, then they have a team of judges that select the top three teams and we did not make the top three cut. But for the African American history competition, we brought two sets. We had a junior team and a senior team.

Glenn: OK. And you have the person, Don Lewis, who works with the students?

Don Lewis: I'm a member and I work with PR and I am also the African American history coach.

Glenn: How did the students do?

Lewis: In the junior division, they made it to the quarterfinals and then the senior division made it to the semifinals. It got down to the last questions and it was a it was a knockout question.

Glenn: How many students participated overall, who they were competing against?

Lewis: Fourteen to 16 teams from different chapters of people but by the time we got there, I think we had about 15 total from different chapters?

Glenn: And is one of the students is with you now?
Lewis: Yes, he is. Jermaine Banks.

100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte mentee Jermaine Banks attends the group's national conference in Atlanta where and other local mentees made it to the semifinal rounds in an African American history competition.
100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte
100 Black Men of Greater Charlotte mentee Jermaine Banks attends the group's national conference in Atlanta where and other local mentees made it to the semifinal rounds in an African American history competition.

Glenn: Tell me what school do you attend in Charlotte, Jermaine?

Jermaine Banks: I go to Mallard Creek High School, going to my senior year.

Glenn: OK. I understand you also have another title. You are the mentee of the year.

Banks: Yes, I'm very grateful and very proud to be the mentee of the year for the Charlotte chapter.

Glenn: What kinds of things have you been doing with the 100 Black Men of Charlotte and what have you gained from them?

Banks: You know, economics was a huge thing that I really needed to focus on, and that was the thing that like every time we had an economics class, I was there. I was attentive, I was paying attention. And learning how to manage a budget is really important so that when you get to the next step in your life, you'll have that kind of backbone. And so the dollars and cents program allowed me to get that backbone, and I will be doing it next year and we will win next year. I'm saying it now. We're gonna win next year. But what surprised me was that the other elements that we also represent, I was really attentive to those as well and that’s something that shocked me because I thought I was a little bit more educated in those categories.

Glenn: What categories are those and what elements?

Banks: Health and wellness. We have economics, we have mentoring, and then we have our related group and education.

Glenn: OK, so you you learned a lot from those various sessions?

Banks: Yes, those sessions kind of give you the opportunity to go in and it's kind of like a class setting, but the various piece speakers who come in and educate us on these topics, they have the opportunity to have a conversation with us and help further our knowledge and that's kind of what those sessions turn into for me, a chance to further my knowledge.

Glenn: Now, what was the competition like?

Banks: The Black history contest for me was a great opportunity to really go into my roots. There's a lot of stuff in that book that I didn't know about. I mean, it starts all the way back in ancient Africa and goes to like late 1900s, and so we all got the same book for this competition. It was an eye opener, right? Like, I mean, people who I had never even heard of like people like Mansa Musa. Mansa Musa was a great leader of the Mali Empire and at one time he was one of the richest men in the world.

Glenn: Well, tell me this, the actual competition itself. What was that like?

Banks: So we had one round where there was eight questions. We had one round where there was nine questions. We had one round where there were 10 questions. And so these three rounds really took you through a roller coaster.

The first round started off very rough, but that's because the nerves were high. And so we started off not too strong. But the second round I came in there with the energy. I was ready. I was prepared and we ended up beating the second round, zero to 25 and then the third round we had very, very tough competition and we both fought for the win and we both really wanted it. I mean the people we were going up against, they were crying after they won. Like we all really wanted it because we cared and we put a lot of effort into reading and researching the book. That took over like a three-month process. And so, it makes you want it more because it's like I'm spending all this time learning this stuff. And so sadly, we did lose at the semifinals, but not without gaining a whole lot of information and a whole lot of community.

Glenn: Well, thanks for talking with me and congratulations for making it to the semifinals. That says a lot.

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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.