The last time Knox TN Today interviewed Chris Beatty (which can be read here), he was full of plans for 2020. As with other leaders of local non-profits, the president of 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville found himself and his volunteers adjusting to every curve ball the pandemic year had to offer.
An engineer by education and trade, Beatty is part of the Senior Mission Support Staff at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. So, figuring things out is what he does.
“I see a problem, I break it down into small manageable pieces to find the solutions, then put it back together,” Beatty said. “You have to be agile.”
Right now, what is weighing on Beatty’s mind are the three Austin-East High School students senselessly murdered in recent weeks. COVID-19 safety measures have kept his organization’s mentoring program in the virtual world instead of the hands-on world. While that has been better than nothing at all, he said, it’s now time to find safe ways to get back to in-person mentorship with the community’s youth and their families at Austin-East and Vine Middle schools.
“We have to re-engage that program, still take advantage of virtual when we have to, but it’s time to find safe ways to have contact with these families and students,” Beatty said. “We have to build those trusting relationships. These are the families that are hurting, that we need to help. We’re not going to just parachute in, then disappear. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Beyond youth mentorship, the long haul for 100 Black Men is empowering the community in the areas of education, economic empowerment, and health and wellness. On the latter, Beatty is hoping to get their Health Fair back online for 2021. Normally held in April, he acknowledged it may still have to wait until fall. In the meantime, the organization will be working to get solid information to the community about the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations, as well as making sure people have access to those vaccines.
“We have to make sure no one gets left behind,” Beatty said. “One way or another, we’ll make this happen.”
He also took a moment to tip his hat to his fellow chapter members. “I really have to give kudos to the men in this organization. There is no paid staff here, everyone has jobs. We’re all volunteers. So essentially they all pay to respond to needs with their time and their money.”
The pandemic took the wind out of their regular fundraisers, the largest of which is the annual gala which had to be cancelled last year and is still a question mark for this year.
Even still, Beatty said, they pressed on and recently announced the creation of the Avon Rollins Trailblazer Scholarship made possible by a grant from the East Tennessee Foundation. Rollins was a civil rights leader in Knoxville and a former director of the Beck Cultural Exchange Center. The scholarship centers on a Black History Month essay contest.
“We’re starting in four schools: Austin-East, Fulton, Carter and West,” Beatty said. “The plan is to add more schools as funding permits. We’re very excited about this program.”
If you would like to learn more about 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville or to make a donation go here.
Beth Kinnane is community editor for KnoxTNToday.com