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100 Black Men of Atlanta increasing its reach

The Rev. Kevin Murriel is remembering long summer days swimming because they were some of the best days of life. But they might not have happened had it not been, he said, for 100 Black Men of Jackson, Miss.

The Rev. Kevin R. Murriel, pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church, at the 100 Black Men of Atlanta 2018 Gala at Bentley Atlanta in Alpharetta on Dec. 2. Murriel was one of 51 new inductees. (Casey Sykes for (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The memory nearly startles him. A lot of years have passed since the 32-year-old preacher was a boy.

Indeed, two weeks ago today, Murriel himself became a member of 100 Black Men of Atlanta, inducted into the non-profit along with 50 other community leaders by former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young.

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His time could not have come at a more pivotal moment.

African-American organizations like 100 Black Men are undergoing a resurgence of sort fueled by the 2016 presidential election two years ago and a seeming repeat of community ills that gave rise to them in the first place: health inequities, lack of affordable housing, rising incarcerations rates and an inadequate education system.

“In November 2016, America got a reality check that there are many evils in society that still exist,” Murriel said just days before his induction. “Racism is still a huge problem, and we’re seeing it play out through policies that directly affect minority communities.”

A new member is pinned by an existing member during the induction ceremony Dec. 2 at the 100 Black Men of Atlanta 2018 Gala held at Bentley Atlanta in Alpharetta. (Casey Sykes for (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

With its newest infusion of African-American men like Murriel, WSB-TV anchor Fred Blankenship and Bentley Atlanta’s General Manager Sid Barron, Atlanta’s 100 Black Men is uniquely positioned to address much of what ails the black community, particularly its youth. (WSB-TV is owned by Cox Enterprises, which also owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.)

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For one thing, this is the largest class of inductees in the organization’s 32-year history. And not only will it be able to continue the work it has been doing in all that time, it will be able to increase the work and outreach to kids who need the help.

Hank Aaron, Atlanta Braves legend and former all-time home run record holder, is seen at the 100 Black Men of Atlanta 2018 Gala held Dec. 2 at Bentley Atlanta in Alpharetta. (Casey Sykes for (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“There are so many opportunities for this class, joined with the older members, to make a huge impact in Atlanta,” Murriel said.

Among the 100, members range in age from 32 to 81. They are a diverse group that begins with baseball great Hank Aaron and ends with Ambassador Andrew Young. It includes businessmen, college presidents, physicians, attorneys, media personalities and ministers like Murriel.

Andrew Young, former Ambassador to the United Nations, is seen at the 100 Black Men of Atlanta 2018 Gala at Bentley Atlanta in Alpharetta on Dec. 2. (Casey Sykes for (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Add to those Larry Johnson, a retired IBM executive vice president whose president and chairman of the 100’s board of directors, and Willie Clemons, a founding member and former executive director of external affairs for the Morehouse School of Medicine, and it’s easy to see why its members are considered its greatest asset.

12-2-18 - Alpharetta, GA - Dr. Willie Clemons is seen at the 100 Black Men of Atlanta 2018 Gala at Bentley Atlanta in Alpharetta, Ga., on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018. (Casey Sykes for (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

But let’s not forget the thousands of children here and across the country whose lives have been changed because of those men. According to Johnson, 640 youth have been the beneficiaries of college scholarships—about $480,000 a year. Thousands more have had access to after-school programs, which includes test and college prep that students would not have received.

“Everything we do starts and stops with trying to address the needs of our youth,” Johnson said.

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That includes making sure they have access to the basics like food, eyeglasses, early education, high-quality health care and opportunities that might not be visible in the communities where they live.

It didn’t take long for the men to realize that not even that was enough.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“As the kids evolved, the parents wanted to do the same,” Johnson said.

And so starting in 1986, they added health and wellness clinics to its offerings; in 1989, financial literacy and in 2013, GED classes.

But let’s be clear. They have not done this work on their own.

Metro Atlantans have been particularly generous over the years, opening their pocketbooks for donations—some solicited, some just because.

They hope the financial support will continue, but this much is certain: the vision to provide support and improve the quality of life for African-American youth is as important today as it was in 1986 when the Atlanta chapter was founded.

“We have taken that vision and accepted it,” Murriel said.

He compared the recent induction of new blood to a transfusion that will re-energize an aging base.

“They’ve done a lot of work but, like any organization, we’re looking for new and creative ways to energize the workforce and support our mission,” he said.

With a base that includes Hank Aaron and Ambassador Young — and this new lineup of 51—they can’t miss.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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