100 Black Men: mentoring to give and to live

Larry Van GuilderOur Town Leaders

Chris Beatty is an impressive man. Considering the impressive work being done by 100 Black Men of Knoxville that’s not surprising. The Jamaica native earned engineering degrees to the doctoral level beginning with an associate degree from a community college. His bachelor’s degree comes from Georgia Tech, one of the most demanding schools in the nation.

He’s worked for NASA and the Department of Defense, and at present, works at ORNL on the ITER Project, an international venture aimed at making atomic fusion energy commercially viable. A March 27, 2019, issue of ORNL Review explained it this way: “The doughnut-shaped ITER will, for the first time on Earth, create a burning (self-heating) plasma and contain it with a magnetic field. The plasma itself will be heated and sustained primarily by its own fusion reactions — literally the same energy source that powers the sun and the stars.”

Heady stuff. If your science education stopped short of enabling you to grasp the principles behind ITER you aren’t alone. Beatty’s handle on such matters is such that he’s about to be promoted by ORNL.

“Less engineering,” he said ruefully, meaning more administrative duties.

Beatty has been president of the Knoxville affiliate of 100 Black Men for two years. He was just elected to a second term. The same dedication that’s enabled him to rise in his profession drives his work in this mentoring program for youth, primarily but not exclusively African American young men. The national program began in 1963 and mentors 135,000 young people each year. Knoxville’s program will soon celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The mentoring program takes aim at the high incidence of single-parent or guardian households, an especially critical problem among black families. There are 27 mentors in Knoxville and the organization selects the young men to enter the program. Candidates as young as third-graders may be selected for the program, which is founded on four “pillars:” mentoring; health and wellness; education; and economic development.

Mentors undergo training and recurring background checks. Depending upon the age of the mentee, they may engage him in topics ranging from “sex and sexuality” to “police engagement.” All mentors are volunteers.

Chris Beatty

“Volunteerism is in my DNA,” Beatty said. Six years after he moved with his family from Jamaica to southern Florida, when he was 13, his mother died, and he has never forgotten the support he received that enabled him to get where he is today. His supporters asked for nothing in return.

On this night he was waiting for a mentee whom he would accompany on a mission to feed homeless people living under a bridge. They would do this every Wednesday for a month.

“Everyone,” he said, “has something to give,” and reinforcing that lesson is a major goal for mentors who meet with their mentees at least once a week for a year. “Success” is counted when the mentee graduates from high school. The graduate is rewarded with a small scholarship and a number will go on to college. Recently a law school graduate returned as a guest speaker.

Entering the program requires a commitment from the parent or guardian as well as the young man. Each year starts with a meeting with the responsible adults.

“The first thing young men look at is your (the mentor’s) commitment,” Beatty said. Youths who’ve weathered a stormy upbringing can detect insincerity a mile away.

A bright smile appears when he says he’s engaged to be married, “sometime between November and February.” His 23-year-old daughter lives in South Korea where she teaches English.

His own travels have carried him around the world, including France and some less hospitable areas. But the impression he and his fellow mentors are making right here on young minds is just as important as his professional connections internationally. After all, those young men are the future.

1oo Black Men of Knoxville will hold its annual gala on June 27, 2020, at the downtown Hilton. For more information click here.

Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for KnoxTNToday. Write to him at lvg@knoxtntoday.com.

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the location of the 2020 annual Gala as the organization’s facility on Magnolia Avenue instead of the downtown Hilton. We regret the error.

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