January 21, 2013 10:33:15 AM
Carmen K. Sisson - [email protected]
The past few days have been busier than usual for Dr. John Robinson, a Columbus dentist and president of the local chapter of 100 Black Men.
Sunday found him pacing the Columbus Riverwalk, waiting for the kickoff of Dream 365's first march to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's march to Washington and his "I Have a Dream" speech.
The march, sponsored by 100 Black Men, is just one of many events the group supports, all in an effort to help young people, particularly young black males, understand their place in the world and realize their full potential as productive, responsible citizens.
The organization began in 1986 when Robinson, along with Bernard Bridges and other local leaders, began trying to reduce the number of high school dropouts. The best way to have the most influence, they decided, was to form a local chapter of the national organization of 100 Black Men, which places a heavy emphasis on youth mentoring.
It was a subject that hit close to home for Robinson, who, along with his nine siblings, was raised by a single mother in Canton. He credits his mother, along with a high school teacher, for keeping him on the right path when he could have so easily gone astray.
His high school teacher taught him life is not worth living until you share it with others. His mother taught him that if he kept up with his studies and put God first, he could accomplish anything.
These are the types of lessons he seeks to instill in the young people he mentors.
The local chapter of 100 Black Men, made up of approximately 30 local leaders, selects between 25 and 30 seventh and eighth-graders from Columbus and Lowndes County, guiding them through high school to graduation. Robinson said more than 80 students have gone through the program, with all graduating and many going on to college.
The students are predominantly from single-parent homes and are young men who need a strong male presence in their lives, Robinson said. The group hopes to eventually have enough mentors to include students across the Golden Triangle in Oktibbeha and Clay counties.
Each week, they meet with the students and encourage them to be respectful and responsible, not only for their school work and their families but also for their communities. They take them on tours of area colleges, and they encourage them to have an open mind about careers, trying to expose them to successful black males working in a broad range of professions.
"What they see is what they'll be," Robinson says. "If they never see a veterinarian that looks like them, or an engineer, it's hard for them to envision becoming one. That's part of our mission statement -- to get them out in the community and around the country to see how people live so they will have a wider view."
Along with 100 Black Men, Robinson is also a board member with the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science Foundation, a former Boys & Girls Club and United Way of Lowndes County board member, former president of the Mississippi Dental Society and the Mississippi Dental Association District 1, a member of the American Dental Association and the Mississippi Dental Association and a deacon at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
But he is most proud of his children -- the three he raised and the dozens he mentored.
He and his wife, Gennette Robinson, have two sons and a daughter: Emmett Robinson, 32; John Robinson II, 30; and Einna Robinson, 28. Emmett is a dentist in New York, while Einna is a teacher at Hinds Community College and John II works in his father's office as a dental assistant.
"Whatever blessings God has given me, I share with others," Robinson said. "These youngsters have been a profound joy for me, because I've seen them grow and mature and become outstanding young men. That's what the 100 is all about -- helping our youngsters realize God has a grand design for them and they need to make their best efforts to make that a reality."
The biggest challenge young black males face is realizing they have a responsibility not only to themselves but to their communities and their nation, Robinson said.
"Once youngsters realize who they are and who they belong to -- that the almighty God created all of us and we are all brothers in Christ -- we can respect one another for who the person is, loving one another and caring about the plight of everyone without looking at color," Robinson said. "Our influence is predicated on our character. You be the best person you can be and you influence those that come in contact with you to be the same. If we can do that, then our nation will be stronger, our nation will be productive and our schools will be stronger. We all have to contribute to that idea."
If the mentors achieve their goal, their young protégés will make their communities better for their presence, no matter where they decide to settle, he said.
And so far, it seems to be working. Recently, a young man with two children approached Robinson and told him that without the mentorship he received from 100 Black Men, he doesn't think he would have made it.
"That just makes it worthwhile," Robinson says.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.