May 9, 2009
Andre Lewis stood quiet and motionless for a moment Friday night as he gazed out over the crowd of more than 150 people gathered in Mississippi University for Women''s Hogarth Dining Hall.
Lewis, a United States Air Force pilot for more than 20 years and author of five children''s'' books, seemed to momentarily cast aside his long list of achievements in order to lift up a group of about 20 middle and high school students.
"I have to take a pause for a minute, because it''s not often that I get to come back home and say thank you," said Lewis, a Columbus native who now lives in Memphis, Tenn. "So many people out there don''t realize the potential and the talent that Columbus, Miss. has."
Moments before Lewis took the stage Friday night during the 100 Black Men of Columbus and the Golden Triangle''s Ninth Annual Scholarship Banquet, members of the organization presented a group of about 20 local middle and high school students selected as 100 Black Men protégés.
Through the organization''s mentoring program, a group of protégés, each an African-American male student in seventh through 12th grade, each year is selected by school counselors and organization members to be mentored individually by a 100 Black Men member.
"I can only imagine what me and my friends could have done in our lives if this organization would have been around when I was growing up," said Lewis.
During the program, protégés are involved in various programs and activities, like delivering warm meals to elderly residents each Thanksgiving and serving as community arts ambassadors for the Columbus Arts Council.
"100 Black Men means something different to each protégé," said Keion McGregory, a Columbus High School senior and 100 Black Men protégé. "To me, it means strength. They have taught me that better is possible, and that good is just not enough."
"100 Black Men has been instrumental in giving me guidance and direction in my life," said CHS senior Jovan Buckley. "That is important in a time like this when good black role models are hard to find."
"These African-American men in the 100 Black Men of Columbus are doing selfless, positive things in this community," Lewis added.
The mentoring program is an important part of battling an "epidemic that''s sweeping the nation," Lewis explained.
"Studies show that 50 percent of African-American males will not graduate from high school. Studies show that over 50 percent of American males infected with HIV are African-American. Over 60 percent of females infected with HIV are African-American," Lewis said. "Yes, it is an epidemic, but it doesn''t have to be one here in Columbus.
100 Black Men President Dr. John Robinson agreed, saying the organization must work to combat a "storm" of negative messages sent to young people every day.
After graduating high school, each protégé is given a $250 stipend from 100 Black Men. Protégés also are eligible to receive a $750 scholarship from the group after enrolling in college. Friday''s event is the primary fundraiser for the scholarships.
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