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100 Black Men of Las Vegas helps kids choose the right moves

In chess, each move brings with it consequences that may help or hurt you.

Shawn Smith, assistant principal at the 100 Academy of Excellence, is trying to get kids to apply that to life.

Smith runs the mentor program for the 100 Black Men of Las Vegas, a nonprofit group that supports young people, male and female, of all ethnicities.

“We’re trying to teach strategic thinking,” Smith said . “We want them thinking ahead. If I make this move, this will happen.”

It’s Saturday morning, and parents are dropping their kids off at the 100 Academy, 2341 Comstock Drive, for the weekly mentor program sponsored by the 100 Black Men. The group also mentors at Wendell P. Williams and Mackey elementary schools during the school year.

The 100 Black Men was founded in 1963 by Jackie Robinson and other prominent leaders. The organization has nearly 120 chapters nationwide.

Smith and seven kids are sitting around a table when the program begins at 10 a.m.

He asks each one what their grades were this year. Most of them had B s and C s. He asks them what their goals are.

“I want to be an artist or a scientist, or both,” one student says . He also wants to go to Yale or Harvard universities.

Most of them, slouched in their chairs and disinterested in the subject, say, “I don’t know.”

Kids trickle in until there are 17 of them by 10:30 a.m.

Smith asks about any extracurricular activities they participate in at school or if they’re involved in any sports leagues this summer.

“It’s important to have goals and start thinking about things you want to do,” Smith adds . “They could be short- term. Making better grades, helping out around the house, reading five books this summer.”

Toya Roberts is a single mother raising a 10-year-old son, Jackson Davis, who attends Gibson Middle School. His dad lives on the East Coast and rarely sees his son.

To help fill that void, Roberts started bringing her son to these Saturday mentor sessions.

“I wanted a situation where he could be around good male role models,” Roberts says . “I’m happy as a single mom to have this opportunity. He’s an only child, and I wanted some socialization outside of school.”

Jackson, who wants to go to Yale, enjoys the program because, among other things, he gets to play chess. He says he likes playing with new kids to observe their strategies and learn from them.

When Smith tells the group members that they can begin playing chess, they immediately perk up.

“Yes,” several of them blurt .

Kids break up in twos and begin the games at desks scattered around the room. For the five or six who don’t know how to play, Smith has a three-by-three-foot board in the center of the room on which he teaches them.

After about 30 minutes of playing, an argument breaks out over a game.

One student curses at another and hits him. The other boy accuses him of stealing something from the class.

Smith tells everyone to stop what they’re doing and pay attention to him.

“Is there supposed to be cussing in this mentoring class?” Smith asks .

“No,” they answer collectively.

“Are you old enough to use curse words?”


“Just because you hear other people using them, does that mean you can use them?”


“None of you are grown. You don’t use grown-up language. Do you understand that?”


“Do we hit each other?”


“Do we take things that do not belong to us?”


“I expect you to come here as young men and young ladies and conduct yourselves in a proper way and give each other respect.

“Are we going to have to have this talk again?”

“No, sir.”

Smith must repeat some of his questions two or three times before everyone answers him. He doesn’t raise his voice. He doesn’t single kids out. He doesn’t insult them in any way.

“They get enough of that at home,” Smith adds . “When you hear parents curse at them; when parents say, ‘Get the blank away from me,’ what do you think a child feels when they hear that? Then they go out and do it to other kids. Somebody has to be patient with them.”

Smith spent 28 years in the Air Force and retired as a chief master sergeant.

“It’s not different from in the military,” he said. “You take young people from society and try to make them better citizens.”

LaShawnda Gray, another single mother, has been sending her two children, Courtney and Shawn Hamphill, to mentor sessions for about a year now.

“It’s important to learn as boys so they become good men,” Gray said , “instead of ending up in prison.

“I’m just happy with the way things are going. It’s great to see them learning mutual respect and character development and to see a positive male role model.”

Smith was alone with the 17 kids on that day because the other members in the 100 Black Men were volunteering at a Shots 4 Tots event, which sponsors immunizations for young children.

There are usually three or four representatives from the organization to help out on Saturdays.

Before the session ends at noon, pizza is delivered to the class. The well-
behaved kids get to eat first.

A group at the center table continues to be disruptive. They talk when Smith does, make jokes and egg on the younger kids to get them in trouble.

“I’ll wait,” he says . “Mr. Smith is a patient man.”

After a few minutes, they too quiet down and get their choice of pepperoni or cheese pizza, chips and bottled water.

Smith lets the kids line up and pick out another bag of chips to take home before they leave.

He stays an hour late with three of the kids because their parents didn’t pick them up.

The 100 Black Men of Las Vegas have scheduled mentor sessions from 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays throughout summer at the 100 Academy of Excellence. Mentor sessions are open to any kids in the community.

Smith also plans to host field trips for the children . Nellis Air Force Base will be one of the destinations .

“What they see is what they’ll be” is the group’s motto. For these kids, for at least two hours a week, that’s a good thing.

Contact View education reporter Jeff Mosier at jmosier@viewnews.com or 224-5524.

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