Real Life 101: Changing the Lives of At-Risk Young Black Men In America

BoysDetroit non-profit Real Life 101 has taken their initiative to help young black boys nationally. This past June they awarded over 234 high school students across the world with laptop computers loaded with software, computer bags and certified mentors to help them go to and complete college.

Recently, it hosted its golf fundraising event.

Founder and chairman Sid E. Taylor started the organization in 2000 by himself with the money from his own pocket. Real Life 101 Scholarship Fund began by giving 10 scholarships to 10 graduating seniors in Detroit, MI. By 2006, the organization expanded the program to offer 100 at-risk African-American male students graduating from 10 high schools in Detroit a $1,000 scholarship for a period of five years, a laptop computer and a certified and trained mentor.

Now funded by corporations and private donors, Real Life targets financially challenged inner city students who face obstacles in attending college. ?The focus is mainly on at-risk African-American males. Eligible Real Life students must be accepted into a college/university, trade school or an accredited higher education institution anywhere in the country or abroad.

And since its inception, Real Life 101 has awarded more than $1.5 million dollars in scholarships and 1,500 laptop computers have been awarded to graduating inner city public school students.

Here, Taylor sat down with TNJ.com.

TNJ.com: Why did you feel it was necessary to start the organization?

Sid E. Taylor: As an African-American male, I know firsthand what they are faced with because I have experienced it myself. I conducted research on the INCARCERATION of African American males and the numbers were so startling that I felt compelled to take some action on my own. Hence, Real Life 101 Scholarship and Mentoring started in 2000.

TNJ.com: Why did you launch it with your own seed money?

ST: My commitment dates back to 1969 while serving in Vietnam as a United States Marine Combat Veteran. We were ambushed by the North Vietnamese army (NVA), I had lost several members of my squad and we were overwhelmed and pinned down by enemy fire. We had always been able to fight our way out of other firefights and persevere. This one was different and I did not think we were going to make it out of this fire fight alive.

At that moment, my instincts lead me to my spiritual foundation, instilled in me by my father (a Baptist minister), and I asked God to help our situation. My specific very, short prayer under the critical circumstances was, “Lord please help us out of this and if we are spared I will do something good for humanity one day.” It was a short and spontaneous prayer that I remember, like it was yesterday, under very bad conditions.

We called in support and God obviously answered my prayer and I am here today as a servant making good on that promise made back in 1969. I did not know that my commitment would lead me to Real Life 101, but I now realize this is my way of fulfilling that commitment made that day in Vietnam through the Real Life 101 organization and the family of volunteers and donors to date.

TNJ.com: Now 15 years down the line, what have been some of the biggest accomplishments?

ST: There are multiple accomplishments, two of the more salient have been starting with one school in the city of Detroit in the year 2000 to the present (15 years later) and serving 234 schools in 10 states. Additionally, we have over 260 certified Real Life 101 mentors and staff members who provide the village by investing in this endangered group.

TNJ.com: What has been the most challenging thing about running the organization?

ST: There have been many challenges. The most challenging element was getting the message out to the masses, making them aware of this critical and neglected group and motivating them to be willing to contribute, engage and invest in the efforts of Real Life 101. While many positive strides have been made, the investment level and scale is not commensurate with the veracity of this major and long time neglected group and the issues they face day-to-day.

TNJ.com: What are some of the major goals over the next 15 years?

ST: We plan to expand to every state in America and increase our certified mentors exponentially as we continue our “Investing In Education And Not Incarceration.”

TNJ.com: Thoughts on President Obama’s initiative My Brother’s Keeper?

ST: It is a start. It sends a great messagem, but the final judge will be the resources to provide a business model that drives success and solutions for this endangered group. The resources being allocated or not for the development, sustainability and execution of the model will determine if this is truly “deeds and not words.”

TNJ.com: Many feel young Black men are under attack on various levels in the U.S. right now. Thoughts?

ST: This is the current sentiment of many. This gets its label and base from the past history and the empirical date relative to Black men as it relates to racial profiling, disproportionate incarceration of Black males, lack of job opportunities and the list goes on. It is my opinion that until we find an economic solution where job opportunities are made available to the masses which will provide them with hope and self worth, the plight of the Black male will continue to present major challenges to and for America.