Over the past 22 years, the 100 Black Men of Madison have provided more than 32,000 backpacks filled with school supplies to help make sure that area youth get off to a good start for the upcoming school year. Young and old people alike have pretty much gotten used to the long lines forming at Demetral Park on Madison’s east side and the yellow trucks with the men in red shirts handing out the backpacks and chatting with the kids.

“It’s pretty much mostly been at Demetral Park for the last 12-15 years and for as long as many people can remember.. They have been a tremendous partner for 100 Black Men of Madison,” Chris Canty, vice president of the 100 Black Men of Madison and chair of the Back to School Picnic, tells Madison365.

This year, things are going to be a little bit different. The 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic is on the move and will be held in the atrium of the Madison College Truax Building.

Chris Canty (middle) with J.R. Sims (left) and Enis Ragland (right) at a previous 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic.

“One of the reasons that we wanted to move it this year is because we had an offer to transition it over to Madison College from [Madison College President] Dr. Jack Daniels who offered to us and to Dr. Floyd Rose [president of 100 Black Men of Madison], and he accepted. He offered to open up the Truax campus for stuffing parties before the event, too, along with for the actual event.

“It was really a gracious offer and it is going to allow us to turn into something more than a backpack giveaway and more of a kick-off event for back-to-school celebrations,” Canty adds. “We really wanted to make sure that kids got off to a fantastic start for the school year and that includes more than just the backpacks and supplies. We wanted to have some great resources available to them.”

The 100 Black Men of Madison Annual Back To School Celebration will continue to evolve as they look to provide school supplies for more than 2,000 students in need but to also provide them with more and more access to resources.

Canty says that the 100 Black Men already over 10 resource tables for the event including the Department of Workforce Development, Access Community Health Care, Reach Dane, and Madison Public Library.

“Madison College will have a resource table, American Family Children’s Hospital will have a table and they will be giving away booster seats and bike helmets for kids,” Canty says.

Girls get backpacks at the 2016 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic.

“It’s going to be really fun. When you have 2,000 people in one space, there is a lot you can do there,” Canty adds. “And there is a lot more we’re going to do this year. It’s going to be cool shifting it over to Madison College; it’s such a beautiful area. We’re really excited to utilize it to its fullest potential.”

Gone are the big yellow trucks that you are used to seeing at the annual 100 Black Men Back to School event used to haul all of the backpacks to Demetral Park from backpack packing sites. “I’m getting everything basically dropped at Madison College and they will house it in a big room right there and we will do all of the stuffing right where we’re going to give them away,” Canty says. “So, logistically, this year it will be much easier for me to manage.”

In preparation for the distribution of school supplies at the 2017 Back To School Celebration, the Annual Stuffing Party will be held on Thursday, Aug. 10, at Madison College. Last year, more than 200 individuals representing 34 partner organizations as well as numerous individuals in the community assisted members of the 100 Black Men of Madison in this preparatory activity.

“I love to see all of these people coming together for such a great cause. When we first started this event, it used to take us 3-4 hours to stuff all of the backpacks,” Canty says. “Now, with so many volunteers, we have to turn people away because we’ve had so much support. We can stuff 1,500 bags in less than 90 minutes. It’s incredible to have that kind of support.”

This is Canty’s 7th year running the Back to School Picnic, but he has been involved with the event since he was a kid. His dad, Wayne Canty, ran the show for the previous 10 years before he became the chair.

“It’s been in our family for 17 years. It’s a tradition. My dad is actually flying up from Florida to help me out and I’ve been talking with him over the phone already to go over logistics,” Canty says. “Last year was the first time that we hadn’t been together to do it and I realized how tough it was to not have him there.”

Girls have fun at the 2016 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic.
(Photo by Paul McMahon)

The 100 Black Men of Madison Annual Back To School Celebration is just one of the many things that “the 100″ do in the Madison community to try and make an impact on its young people. The 100 Black Men of Madison recently got a big boost being selected to be the recipient of the fundraising proceeds of the Madison Club’s annual gala.

“We were actually the number-one fundraiser for all time for that Madison Club fundraiser. That was a great event. One of the programs we are pushing right now is the SOAR mentoring program which we are launching throughout the Madison public schools,” Canty says. “One of our big mottos at the 100 is ‘what they will see is what they will be’ so we want to put successful people in front of students to really show them career paths and different educational opportunities that they can pursue. And we want to do that at a younger age. We find that we can make a big difference if we can get kids on track to succeed at an early age and really show them the path that they can take.”

Madison police officers talk to kids at the 2016 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic.
(Photo by Paul McMahon)

The 100 Black Men of Madison are using the Madison Club award for their new Project SOAR program. The SOAR (Student Opportunities, Access and Readiness) program mentors black male students ages 12-17 in the Madison Metropolitan School District. SOAR works with over 300 economically disadvantaged boys in Dane County to boost academic success, graduation rates and lower truancy rates by incorporating incorporates mentoring, career information and discussions on social issues.

The 100 Black Men of Madison also recently earned the national chapter of the year award. “That was big for us. We were competing against chapters from all across the United States. For us to be selected as chapter of the year … that’s something we are extremely proud of right now,” Canty says. “That tells me that the national chapter is seeing what we’re doing here locally. We don’t have the biggest chapter but the amount of work we’re able to do with 40-50 guys in this local organization is just phenomenal.”

You can find out more about all of the great projects and programs at the 100 Black Men of Madison Back to School Picnic this Saturday. It’s a fun and uplifting event, Canty says.

“I love to see the kids running around with their backpacks at this event and with big smiles on their faces. It’s a lot of work on our end, but when we see that the kids and the parents are happy it makes us happy,” Canty says. “We’ve had parents say to us, ‘If it wasn’t for this event, I don’t know what we would do and we aren’t sure how we would get backpacks and school supplies.’ There really is a need and we are proud to do it and we’re happy to do it and we’re really excited for Saturday.”

The event, however, is about much more than providing backpacks.

“We started this event because we obviously want the students to have what they needed to start the school year and there are so many kids who don’t have what they need,” Canty says. They don’t have the basics. We wanted them to have that, but we also wanted them to have the confidence that comes with having exactly what you need to get off to a good start. When those kids walk in and they have a brand-new backpack and brand-new supplies, they feel ready. That emotional readiness, I think, is almost as important as the physical readiness.

“That’s always been one of the drives of the event,” he adds. “I think people see the backpacks and the school supplies and that is absolutely something we are so proud of, but it’s also about that readiness and that ability to succeed from day one.”

The 23rd annual 100 Black Men of Madison Annual Back To School Celebration will be held Saturday, Aug. 12, 9 a.m.-noon at Madison College Truax Campus, 1701 Wright St.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.