In a wonderful display of a united community, 100 Black Men of Madison welcomed local students and parents to mark the new school year as a festive occasion. Elevating its annual backpack and school supply give-away to a whole new level, the group invited several other support organizations to provide information and resources to assure the academic success of area youth as they prepare for next phase of their education. With hopes of getting kids off to good start, dozens of volunteers and professionals gathered at Madison College for the 100 Black Men Black to School Celebration.
Previously called Backpacks For Success, for more than 21 years the program gives students the basic tools they need to learn. Providing them with a supply of pens, pencils, spiral note books and a backpack to put them in, these community leaders aim to inspire young people across the City of Madison to show up for their first day of class with both the gear and the enthusiasm to succeed.
“We wanted to turn this more into a celebration,” said event chairman and 100 Black Men member Chris Canty. “We changed the name, we changed the branding. We wanted it to be about kids getting excited about school.”
The event at Madison College offered enough backpacks to outfit up to 1,400 students. In addition to 100 Black Men volunteers included members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Society. Madison police officers and fire fighters were also in attendance as a positive expression of community engagement. And staffers from the Dane County Department Public Health were there to provide materials on vaccinations to assure the physical well-being of local youth.
“ We have over 28 resource tables as well, like teaching kids how to use voting machines,” Canty said. “UW Health is doing safety products. We have car seats. The school district is here registering students. We have books for the kids. Really we have a little bit of everything. We want it to be a one-stop-shop, where people can come, get excited and learn a few things.”
The economic challenges of many Madison families make programs like this necessary. Kids without these simple school supplies can be at a disadvantage during this critical point in their primary education.
“We do this every year and the need is not getting smaller. We’ve talked to the school superintendent. We’ve talked to the teachers. We’ve talked to principals. In every single school there are kids who are homeless. There are kids who are underprivileged,” Canty said. “Kids really, really need these bags. The district is not going to have the resources to help everyone. We’re happy to be a supplement to that, to make sure that anyone who comes here today is going to get a bag. We not only want them to have the supplies that they need, but we want them emotionally to feel ready for school.”