On November 7 Patrick Henry High School invited 100 Black men to take part in their second “100 Black Men Strong” event, featuring keynote speaker Toki Wright. The event took place at 9 am in the school’s gymnasium with 150-200 in attendance. Professionals in attendance who volunteer their time included journalists, lawyers, small business owners, college students, members of law enforcement, education professionals, and many more.
The school’s principal, Yusuf Abdullah, addressed the students and mentors with much thanks and gratitude. He spoke of the importance of the event, but also the importance of the presence of Black men in the building and how the level of respect had noticeably gone up since that morning.
“Every time since I’ve been here as a freshman with these events, people come in and inspire the students,” said Shaheed Bell, a Patrick Henry junior and athlete who has been invited to represent Team USA in track and field this summer in Australia. “It’s like Mr. Abdullah said, [students] see these guys who are very successful and automatically pull up their pants, even as just a small gesture [of respect].”
In light of negative press about a Patrick Henry student bringing a loaded gun on the school campus, Abdullah acknowledged how excited he was to have an event like “100 Black Men Strong.” Following Abdullah, Wright, a well-established hip hop artist and Patrick Henry alumnus, addressed the crowd with his message centered on what he’d say to his younger self if he had the opportunity. He chose to perform an acapella version of his song “Lost Boy” as a means of introducing himself to the crowd.
Wright addressed the young men on the topic of haters and those that don’t want to see young Black men succeed, saying that the young men can either accept what their haters are saying or prove them wrong. “The more haters you have, the better you’re doing!
“Just because people hate on you doesn’t mean you quit,” said Wright. “That doesn’t mean that you slow down or stop. That should make you speed up.”
MSR was able to catch up with three young men following the event: Bell, junior Bryan Wright and sophomore Davion Johnson. The three talked about learning from the mentors at the event and gaining understanding.
Each said he attended Friday’s event for different reasons. For Johnson, it was to see and learn about various professions in order to help him decide what he’d like to do in his future. Bell came to see and hear success stories from people that look like him and those who “actually care.”
Wright said, “I went to the event today to see Black males that achieved in life [and] that got out of the category of a statistic, you know, that made something different for themselves, better their futures.”
The young men spoke on several topics, including their views on the achievement gap, the negative views that folks have of them, and most importantly how they’ll beat the odds.
“I think 100 Black Men Strong is a great program,” said Johnson. “And I think it’s going to help out a lot of people at the school to actually achieve their dreams instead of just doing what they do to live out their everyday lives, instead of just trying to survive.”
Wright shared similar sentiments and told the story of how his teacher, Dylan Miracle, has helped to motivate him to do better in school and be a better person. “It’s not just a Black man that can change another Black male,” said Wright, as he explained that Miracle is a White teacher. “Anybody can change somebody. It’s just the inspiration and motivation that’s behind it.”
“There are great things happening at Minneapolis Public Schools,” said Bell, “and I feel like people should pay more attention to Minneapolis Public Schools and support us because that’s how it all starts is with support and someone telling you [that] you can do it.”
Khymyle Mims welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Khymyle Mims is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.