A very special group of men has been sharing their compassion and commitment in Georgetown for years, and you probably haven’t heard their name. The 100 Black Men of Austin are part of a national organization that is, above all, a mentorship organization focusing on economic development, education, and health and wellness for young black men.
Chapter President Karl Spencer explains, “Roy Perry founded the Austin chapter in 1995 and, 26 years later, we are still going strong. His work is proof that we should all do good things, even if we’re not certain of the outcome. His good things have kept us strong for 26 years and counting. 100 Black Men is the national name, but we do not limit ourselves to 100 people; membership is always open to men with a heart for service and ideas that align with our core values.”
The Austin chapter partners with many community organizations in Central Texas to identify needs, then gets to work providing grass roots solutions and volunteers. Karl explains, “Last year we saw community needs evolve in different ways, so we pivoted to focus on those needs. The pandemic highlighted issues of food disparity, so we collected for, donated to, and volunteered at food banks, all for the sake of health and wellness. Children need healthy food to function in school, and education remains one of our pillars.
“As it was an election year, we mailed more than 60,000 voter registration cards across Texas and, to our surprise, we nearly doubled the expected response.” Karl, and Georgetown member Matt Easton continued their election efforts all the way to the polls, where they handed out water and hand sanitizer to make sure citizens were refreshed and able to wait in the long lines to vote.
Karl is always happy to talk about the organization and its missions for unity and equity, and adds, “God blessed me that I didn’t lose my job and I have a roof over my head. As long as He continues to bless me, I will continue to bless others and do my best to help.”
Matt Easton says he and everyone in the group focus on meeting people’s needs where they are. “We realized that 2020 created a new normal. Because we have a heart for kids and want to mentor them, we must first meet their needs. If they are hungry, homeless, or cold, it really doesn’t matter what their career goals are. Perhaps all they need is a sympathetic ear, or a hug; we just need to listen to them.”
In Georgetown, 100 Black Men has been a regular partner with The Locker and provided all the supplies to launch at Tippit Middle School. Members continue to donate money, hygiene items, and other sundries, and also manage equity book drives. “Our goal is to fund and facilitate a good representation of many demographics in the school library. I live here and I care about the kids and people in Georgetown, and I also care about what Georgetown will be in years to come. Our focus is not just on black and brown kids because we know every kid deserves our best.”
MEETING THE NEED
In the 2020-21 school year, with 100 Black Men as the vehicle, Matt was part of a special project at Tippit Middle School, one that recognized the parallel emotional needs of teachers and students due to pandemic stresses.
Matt’s wife Tania is the PTA President and she and others at the school realized some student behaviors were indicators of deeper issues about safety or anxiety, irrespective of COVID. Still, COVID definitely put a different kind of strain on teachers and staff. “We realized, early, on, a need to support everyone’s sense of dignity and self-worth. Providing the means to eliminate some of those insecurities allows the students and teachers to have a better learning experience.”
Matt and Tania partnered with school counselors to help teachers and students via a wellness room for each. With an anonymous $5,000 donation and a lot of hard work, several school rooms were outfitted with appropriate sensory experiences. The student room has, bean bag chairs, TVs, fidget toys, and more; three teacher rooms include aromatherapy, massage chairs, wellness lighting, and music. Those in need of a calm space are able to spend time there to de-escalate emotions, cry in a safe space, or even take a nap. Matt reports the student room has been widely used since the launch. He adds, “I would love for these rooms, the book drives, and other positive changes to be highlighted and replicated in other schools.”
100 Black Men is also a part of the Georgetown Police Department’s CommUNITY program, providing input about equity and unity policing from the African-American point of view. “We are in regular communication with Chief Nero. We realize we can’t do and be all things to all people so we are always looking to partner across many lanes and offer resources,” Matt says.
Matt and Karl encourage anyone who wishes to help their work to donate at 100BlackMenAustin.org. “I am proud of our commitment,” Matt says. “What we really want is for people to see that there are educated, professional, black males who care about community, and not the narrative that we’re used to. Georgetown is a giving place, and I know when we understand and tell people about these needs, they will step up to help.”