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"All Men March" Aims To Strengthen Southeast San Diego Families

January 16, 2012 1:15 p.m.


Mario Lewis is one of the founders of 100 Strong and the owner of the Imperial Barber Shop in Southeastern San Diego.

Related Story: Southeast SD Group Asked Men To March For Family, Community


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Today we remember both the life and the assassination of doctor Martin Luther King Jr. In Memphis in 1968. The reason Doctor King was in Memphis is often forgotten. He was there to lend support to striking sanitation workers. Most of those workers were African American, and when they protested, they marched wearing signs that said "I am a man." Sign like that were seen again Saturday in San Diego as the group, 100 strong, sponsored an all-men march in the Skyline neighborhood of San Diego. One of the March's organizers joins us today, Mario Lewis, president of 100 strong. Welcome to the show.

LEWIS: Good afternoon Maureen, how you doing?

CAVANAUGH: I'm doing great. Thank you for 2ing this.

LEWIS: No problem whatsoever.

CAVANAUGH: Now, tell us about the march on Saturday. I understand it was the first of its kind in San Diego.

LEWIS: Yes, it was. Actually a gentleman by the name of tireek Griffin from the 100 strong organization, this was a vision of his. We were actually knocking on doors when we were having a series of shootings over here in this community, and we were realizing after talking to a lot of people and everything there were a lot of men missing in the equation of trying to make things right in this community. So we decided to do this all-men march basically to bring men back to the forefront of leaders in our community, as community organizers, protectors, and mentors. And we wanted to -- the march itself was more or less to unify everybody. Arch the march is where the real work starts. And we wanted to do it around Martin Luther King, because it is significant of what he was trying to push for his dream. And his dream is still working right now.

CAVANAUGH: How many people participated? Would you be calling this a successful march?

LEWIS: Yes, because -- we definitely would call it successful because everything was done on social media. We have over 250 men show up, we had women from all different organizations come to help out, we had 75 volunteers, women from the eastern stars all the way to soresort group, all the way to just social groups. The men varied from all different types of churches, religion, race, and economic background. So I would call it -- for it to be the first of its kind, and for us to do this totally on social media, I would say it was a great success.

CAVANAUGH: And I know you planned to have some signs that read I am a man just like the ones in Memphis, 1968. Why did you want to include that in the march?

LEWIS: Well, being a man is more than just saying you're a man. This is more of a statement. We wanted to make a statement because most of these men that we were dealing with, they are responsible people. They are the ones that got out of bed to make it a point to come out and show that we could walk in unity together. So I -- we looked at that sign over and over and over as we were putting this march together, and we said that sign is and will what we need to express to the community. So we just then redid those signs and went out there and showed San Diego exactly where we're trying to go with this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, do you think -- or let me ask you, what is the reason that some young men don't feel that kind of responsibility to family and community?

LEWIS: Well, you know, it's a very -- it's a bunch of things that equate to that. I think the most thing that I think is prominent here is really economics. Economics/promise from the past, especially in the late, mid-80s where we had a crack cocaine epidemic all over the nation. And you're seeing a lot of broken homes at that time. And during those broken homes, you're seeing grandmothers, and you've seen a lot of even young mother it is raising men. And these men, no matter what happens, they need some type of manly support, they need some type of mentor there to guide them to manhood. And it's unfortunate that a lot of these young men, they live every day to day as every day is their last. So sometimes they get caught up in some of the wrong stuff. We wanted to unify everybody because ever this march, what we're trying to do is unifying everybody, we want to start having forums, we want to build a base of resource for men in our communities. And the base of resource is every organization, church, whatever, whatever you have to bring to the table we've asking people to bring it. Once we start filtering this thing through and getting these men into some of these resources that we work with, I mean, the sky is the limit. We don't know where it's going to go. But we are going to revisit it next year.

CAVANAUGH: Now, what are you knowledging about? What are the kind was thens the community can do to help men?

LEWIS: One of the biggest things especially the African American community is mental health. For whatever reason, we don't embrace the mental health issue as some other communities. And like I said, we've dealt with times of drug epidemic in our country, and some of these guys have seen some very horrific or been through some horrific stuff. And that's one aspect of it. The other aspect is mentoring. When we see a young man, especially -- I'm the owner of a barber shop also. When I see a young men disrespectful to elders and wearing his pants or standing or whatever, I correct him. That's something we need to do as hen men in our community. We need to correct these young people so they will understand that it is a proper way to handle yourself in respect, and in Atonement of how you should treat others. So it's a variety of things. We want to try to get to every single bit of the puzzle we can.

CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Mario Lewis, he is president of 100 strong, and he's also the owner of the imperial barber shop in southeastern San Diego. And we're talking about an event that happened Saturday in San Diego, the all-men march. And it is an off-shoot of 100 strong, which we're going to talk more about. I just want to let everybody know, if you would like to join the conversation, we're going to welcome your call. Mario, 100 strong is the epitome of a grass-roots organization. The idea came, I believe to you from a daily ritual you had with the men who own the businesses next to your barber shop. Tell me about this.

LEWIS: Steve Walters, is the owner of PCS world, and Mike norris, the owner of NMC photography, we used to come out in the morning and discuss business, and problems in our community. And we said why don't we try to do something as positive as we can, and that might motivate others to do the same thing. As we started doing things, it started becoming a movement, more or less. We started seeing people wanting to jump on board with us, and from that point, it has just blossomed to what it is now. And 100 strong is not 100 men or 100 women. 100 strong is a principle thing

It means we're 100%. 100% to God, 100% to family, and 100% to community. And we strive to be 100. That is the platform on which we stand. We're not a nonprofit organization. All the stuff that we do, have fundraisers for, we try to do most of the stuff that we do out of our own pockets. We want to show people that there's other ways of trying to make change without being under the curtain of funding and all this other stuff, because our community is oversaturated with a lot of nonprofits. Some of them are very great. Some of them are useless. And it's unfortune that it appears that whenever you're in a community such as ours, you have a lot of people feeding on the economic background, are and the mental makeup of this community. We wanted to show people that you can make your dreams become reality by just putting forth the effort to do something right.

CAVANAUGH: And right. And not just have an endless series of programs that don't really address the needs that you're identified in the community. And the way you went about identifying needs in the community, you already told us, is knocking on doors and doing surveys. What did you find out in these surveys?

LEWIS: Yes, well, actually our deer friend, Deborah Steven, who is no longer with us, God bless her soul, she had a class at USD, where they were kind of doing community -- it was a community -- a political community activist group. And she helped develop the survey for our 100 strong organization just basically to see what were the powers of our community. Knocking on the doors didn't just happen with the survey. It happened with the death of a young man named Courtney Graham who was gunned down in a John Adams apartment of the he was a patron of my washer shop, wonderful gentleman, and he was shot for no apparent reason six times in the back from his back pack. From that point on, we had a rally, and after this rally, we decided to have a community called reclaiming of the community, where we had these Flyers made, and it was a message of bringing our community together as a village, and it had hot line information all wait from homicide to graffiti. So people started accepting us and started welcoming us in their homes, and we started utilizing these surveys also. And as we were finding out, we started seeing more young men in our community being raised by grandparents, single mothers and/or relatives. And to us, it was just the same common denominator that kept going around, and these young men are being raised by -- other than their fathers. So from that point, we started looking at the bigger picture that we have a serious problem. And it was not just from just African American, we've seen Caucasian families over here, our Hispanic families over here, and our Asian family over here. So we just decided, like I said, tireek came up with the vision, we made his vision come true through 100 strong.

CAVANAUGH: One of the first things that you did as an organize was to rename that intersection at imperial and Euclid, had had gotten that horrible nickname, four corners of death, and you decided to put up signs reading four corners of life. What's going on in that area now? Did this put the spot height on it so that it's no longer what it used to be?

LEWIS: Yes, well, you know like I was telling you earlier, the gentleman, Courtney Graham, had passed away so we did a calm to action for everybody to come out, and we decided to do a rally at the four corner was death, which was Euclid and imperial. That's what it was called for years. And we decided to rename that interaction the four corners of life. And from that actually spawned our -- that spawned our reclaiming of the community efforts. And since we've done that, along with other organizations, the peace coalition, are the police presence, and everything else, we haven't had any problems over there. I was just reading in the paper, the Union Tribune did an article the other day, we haven't had a shooting in this community since the beginning of September some time. And I believe it was the combined efforts of everybody knocking on doors, people marching on streets, holding up signs, people getting involved in these community meetings. The police working with the community. And for us to where now it feels good to go outside and walk in my community.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Mario, I want to bring up something that sometimes comes up when we talk about all-men marches or working on male leadership within a community. Sometimes an emphasis on male leadership kind of reinforces sexual stereotypes. I wonder how do you think about empowering men while also respecting the power of women?

LEWIS: Wow, that was a good one. We had a variety of speakers at our march. And one of the speakers specifically wanted to talk about women and the respect for women. And that was minister hue Mohammed from mosque No. 8. And it was very compelling, the words in which he -- oh, he spawned some very great words. And everybody, I think, they're here today. Within this networking process that we're trying to create, I think those are going to be some of the steps that we take about respect for women. How to really treat a woman. And it may not come from a male perspective. It may be a woman's group out there that can actually bring this forth to young men, you know? But like I said, we're actually opening the door to bring everybody to the table, whomever wants to get involved that has resources to where we can unite everybody and make this happen. This is something that's not going to happen overnight. It's going to take a little while, but we're in it for the long haul. We are down and ready to roll with this entire thing. So I'm just saying more or less, I think that's probably one of the bigger things, the respect for women. Not only the respect for women, but the respect for elders. As a business owner in this community, and not only in this community, but all over San Diego, I see a total disrespect for eler people now, just from people sitting on trolleys, when an elder is standing up, from people cursing out elders. I mean, I see it all over the city. So I think we need some work, and we're willing to put it in.

CAVANAUGH: And Mario, besides being here and talking about your organization how are you going to be remember aring the legacy of doctor king today?

LEWIS: I'm going to be remembering the legacy of doctor king today by enjoying my day with my family. I had a very wonderful, busy weekend, I was able to go to the parade down there on the harbor.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, uh-huh.

LEWIS: And my daughter was in it. I seen all my friends, and council president young. He was in it. But we were able to sit down and reflect on our community about what it meant with doctor Martin Luther King. And today is just a day just to spend with my family to enjoy my family, to embrace this time. I really feel good because all the things that I do in the community and with the 100 strong organization, my young children are involved. My daughter is ten, and they son is seven, they get to see the whole aspect of how it starts from the beginning, and how it rolls out to the end. My son was right alongside of me, in front of the march, leading the marches. And these are the things we need to get back too with the grass-roots of effort of bringing our children to the fore. It was beautiful seeing so many men out there yesterday with their sons.

CAVANAUGH: Right, Mario, I hate to cut you when you're saying such positive things, but we're out of time. Enjoy the holiday, and thank you for speaking with us.

LEWIS: Okay. I thank you very much Maureen, thank you.