“Kids got to have those basics in order to get off to a fast start. It’s really about having that confidence and walking into school knowing that you have a brand-new backpack,” says Chris Canty, a member of the 100 Black Men of Madison board of directors. “We want to make sure all students have that confidence and that they have fun that first day. I remember being that age and I remember that first day and part of me was excited to get back – first-day shoes, brand-new outfit, and a new backpack. That was all I needed. We want all kids to feel that way as they start school.”

The 100 Black Men of Madison know that having the school supplies you need is a big part of academic success and achievement. “The 100,” as they are known, were out in force this past Saturday, Aug. 22, at Demetral Park on Madison’s near east side making their mark on the community with their annual “Backpacks for Success” event, now in its 22nd year.

Chris Canty
Chris Canty

“Everybody that wanted a backpack received one … nobody was turned away,” Canty, the committee chair for the 100 Black Men of Madison’s “Backpacks for Success,” tells Madison365. “I think the rain played into the attendance. We packed 1,500 and gave away about 1,200 at the event.

“Luckily, MMSD Superintendent Jen Cheatham was there and we were able to drop off some extra bags at Lapham Elementary School,” Canty adds. “We know that there is an issue of homelessness in this city and in our schools so we hope the extra bags will get into the right hands. We will work with the school district to find out the best way to do that.”

The 100 Black Men of Madison’s mission is to improve the quality of life within the community and to enhance educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans. Their vision is to seek to serve as a beacon of leadership by utilizing their diverse talents to create environments where children are motivated to achieve, and to empower people to become self-sufficient shareholders in the economic and social fabric of the communities they serve.

The line grows at the annual 100 Black Men of Madison "Backpacks for Success." (Photo by Paul McMahon)
The line grows at the annual 100 Black Men of Madison “Backpacks for Success.”
(Photo by Paul McMahon)

Throughout the week, the 100 Black Men of Madison stuffed 1,500 backpacks to get ready for the event and to get area kids the school supplies they need. “My dad [longtime 100 Black Men of Madison member and former president Wayne Canty] couldn’t make it this year to the event and I realized how much I kind of leaned on him. It’s been a family tradition for almost 20 years,” Canty says. “It was a fun week, though … another success.”

Canty is not worried about having the extra backpacks left over from the event this year.

“It kind of gives me a smile on my face when we don’t give all the backpacks away because it tells me that there are more people stepping up and doing backpack giveaways in this city,” Canty says. “I can honestly say when I took this over 6 or 7 years ago I could not name to you another 50-plus backpack giveaway and now I can tell you 8 to 10. I think the branding that we’ve done for this event has been great.”

Sorority sisters lend a hand at the annual 100 Black Men of Madison Backpacks for Success picnic Aug. 20.
Sorority sisters lend a hand at the annual 100 Black Men of Madison Backpacks for Success picnic Aug. 20.

But don’t forget, the 100 Black Men were the first. Twenty-two years ago they started the trend.

“We don’t want to take too much credit for this,” Canty laughs, “but it has been a very visible event. We always get a lot of great coverage on it. To me, it’s the number-one thing this organization does every year.”

The 100 Black Men of Madison began its operation in 1994 and was incorporated in 1995 as a nonprofit organization comprised of members from many professional disciplines in the greater Madison area. They have been a positive voice for the community youth of color, especially African-American males, and support academic achievement and reinforce social responsibility. The organization has four basic tenets: health and wellness, economic development, education, and mentoring.
It’s gotten to the point where their annual Backpacks for Success event has become not only an important community resource, but a great fundraiser for the 100 Black Men of Madison. In fact, Canty says, it is now their biggest fundraiser. “We are not only able to get reimbursed for the backpacks but we’re able to secure funding for some of our other things like our mentoring program, SOAR [program],” he says.

“The 100 Black Men of Madison are really growing right now,” Canty adds. “And we’re excited to see where we are going to go.”

Canty has been a member of 100 Black Men of Madison for 10 years. “I’ve seen this group grow into what it has become today which is a powerhouse in Madison community,” Canty says. “We’re growing and growing every year and we are doing a much better job of fundraising. The ability to compete with the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Big Brothers Big Sisters … that’s where we need to play. We need to be right there with those guys when people think of fundraising right alongside other major players in the community. That’s one of our goals.”

Canty adds that 100 Black Men of Madison’s budget has doubled in the last few years, helped along recently when the Madison Club Charitable Foundation Gala recognized the 100 Black Men of Madison as the 2016 Award recipient. “Every year, the Madison Club does a gala and the proceeds of that go to a selected organization. We made it to the final four and had a chance to pitch our program,” Canty says. “About a week later, they announced that we were accepted as a recipient of those funds. That was incredible for us. That was huge. It really shows how much respect we’ve garnered in the Madison community.”

Canty says that the 100 Black Men of Madison are looking forward to their annual Prostate Awareness Walk coming up in September. Also, this fall, Canty is excited about the Project SOAR initiative that 100 Black Men of Madison will be launching with MMSD that will incorporate mentoring, career information, and discussion on social issues to help 300 African-American boys in Dane County to boost their academic success, graduation rates and obtain lower truancy rates.

Students get backpacks at the annual Backpacks for Success picnic at Demetral Park. (Photo by Enis Ragland)
Students get backpacks at the annual Backpacks for Success picnic at Demetral Park.
(Photo by Enis Ragland)

“We will actually be going into specified middle schools and high schools and talking to students and bringing in outside mentors of all races and colors and genders,” Canty says. “This is an opportunity for students to actually see and learn about different career paths and start to engage with some of the leaders in the Madison community. Project SOAR is a huge undertaking for us. It’s something we are very, very excited about.”

That fits right in with the 100 Black Men of Madison’s motto which is “What they see is what they will be.”

“We want to make sure that we are putting some very bright and talented people in front of our youth in Madison,” Canty says.

“It’s been a successful year for us. Our summer annual golf outing and our annual Backpacks for Success really capped things off,” Canty adds. “I think we’re really primed for a successful future. Like I said, we are excited.”