“You have to have it where a 15-year-old feels strongly that, ‘there’s something I want, or otherwise I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about,’” Dorsey said.
His revamped program, Brother 2 Brothers, is ready to be re-introduced as a drop-out prevention measure for male students, and this fall, he shopped it around to several area high schools. He’s also looking for men to volunteer as mentors.
He designed Brother 2 Brothers to be played like a competitive game, where teen boys can learn and practice making good life decisions about school, health, work, and family.
His first venture in mentoring came in 2007. Dorsey, Morton and a few other men started by answering questions from 12th-grade boys at Atlanta’s West End Academy. They didn’t even call it mentoring; it was just a two-way conversation. They kept getting invited back, week after week.
“The boys were not used to an adult male talking to them the way I did, and it just opened up their heads,” Dorsey said.
The men continued mentoring male students at several metro Atlanta high schools and were asked to expand to include middle school students. They dressed in identical suits, shirts and ties, which helped to garner more respect from teachers and students.
“He had a unique way of mentoring that really got through to the boys, and I was very impressed with that,” said Morton, who mentored with Dorsey for seven years.
The group of men worked with students at the all-male Fulton Leadership Academy for several years, said founder and superintendent Richardean Golden Anderson.
She said Dorsey “contributed much valuable time in mentoring and encouraging” scholars at the charter school.
“I guess what’s important is he wanted to make a difference in this all-boy setting, to turn this around. We would definitely welcome him back,” Golden Anderson said.
Dorsey said he cares about “confused boys” because he was once one himself.
Portrait of Tom Dorsey who made a name for himself with his photographs of well-known African American families, but his focus is now on young black teen males who don't have good family role models. The 82-year-old has been mentoring teens since 2007, and is still at it, constantly working out his program and asking other men to come help. (Photo by Phil Skinner)
Credit: Phil Skinner
Credit: Phil Skinner
He grew up in a poor neighborhood of Chicago and dropped out of high school at 17. He also had severe memory problems because of a concussion he received in the sixth grade.
“I couldn’t talk to anybody who would understand what I was going through,” he said.
To adjust, he would gather as many details and facts as he could in seeking to understand whatever he faced. He’s used these same techniques throughout his life and teaches them in his mentoring program.
After a stint in the Air Force, he woke up to the value of an education. He was in his mid-30s, married with kids, when he stumbled upon photography as a career. He had gone back to college for an art degree.
Dorsey had a long and distinguished career as a portrait photographer for well-known African American families in Chicago and Atlanta.
In Atlanta, young people made his business soar. Morton remembers that during prom season, many students, both black and white, would get dressed up and come to Dorsey Photography to have their photos taken. He got a lot of business shooting graduation and wedding portraits of young people, too.
Select photos from his work were recently on display at Fulton County’s Southwest Art Center in the exhibit, “Pride, Dignity, and Togetherness: The Legacy of Tom Dorsey.”
In each image, Dorsey said, he saw the “positive potential of the human spirit.”
He says he sees the same potential in each young male he mentors and hopes to draw it out through Brother 2 Brothers.
“Whatever school we end up in, we’re going to jam,” Dorsey said.
WHAT INSPIRES TOM DORSEY
His late wife Carolyn: "Without my time with her for almost 60 years, the whole story would be one with less understanding, happiness, ethical focus and success on my part." Carolyn died in 2017.
Family: "This very special and unique institution is the very foundation of and inspiration for our moral and social values."
His photography: "There are many 'sides' to all people, but their more positive visual self is the only one I tried to see with my camera. I cannot say how one should view these images, but the exhibit's [original] title (Family First with Pride, Dignity and Togetherness) reflects the positive potential of the human spirit I saw every time I was given the opportunity to trip the shutter."
Writing the Brother 2 Brothers Team MENtoring Method: "Many over time have attempted to convince me to write a book about my unusual life, but the B2B manual is the only book I will write and with a meaningful purpose."
HELP US INSPIRE ATLANTA
We recognize a big part of our journalistic mission is to shine a spotlight on wrongdoings and to hold our public officials accountable.
But we also understand the importance of celebrating our region’s moments, milestones and people. That’s exactly what we hope to accomplish with Inspire Atlanta.
Each week, Inspire Atlanta will profile a person that makes metro Atlanta a better place in which to live.
Of course, we can't do this alone: We need your help in finding extraordinary people and identifying inspiring stories across our region. We learned about Tom Dorsey when he sent us information about his volunteer mentoring program.
Know someone who inspires you or makes metro Atlanta a better place for others?
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.