Dario Stephen didn’t need but a microsecond to ponder where he might be had he not been introduced at age 12 to his mentors at the 100 Black Men of America.
“Selling drugs, somewhere in jail or six feet below,’’ said Stephen, 30, who grew up in Liberty City.
On Saturday, the good-natured “Chef Dario,” bearer of degrees from Florida State and Johnson & Wales University, was, instead, whipping up caramelized salmon with mango salsa and sautéed asparagus outside Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale for the unveiling of the 100 Black Men of America’s community empowerment project.
The festival was in conjunction with the 100 Black Men of America’s 28th Annual Conference at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood. It drew hundreds of local residents who took advantage of health screening, sessions on banking and finance and plenty of literature and representation from state and Broward County agencies — as well as free food and a bounce house for the little ones.
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The 100 Black Men of America is a national organization that strives to improve the quality of life and enhance educational and economic opportunities for African Americans — especially youth. More than 10,000 belong.
“We serve as positive role models for young black males,’’ said Dennis Wright, 43, the Fort Lauderdale chapter president and CA Technologies expert who aligns technology to fit businesses. “We lead by example and need to be out front showing them there’s a right way of doing everything in being successful.’’
The organization’s youth-oriented motto: “What they see is what they’ll be.”
Albert Tucker, the vice president of multicultural business development for the Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the four-day convention not only was expected to bring more than $5 million in economic impact, it gives black youth “an opportunity to see role models who look just like them.’’
This year’s empowerment project, in partnership with Nova Southeastern University, centers on the highly anticipated mentoring management system being launched in conjunction with the Broward County School System.
Now, in addition to being able to see their children’s grades and attendance records, parents will be able to go online and see the dozens of mentoring programs available, then select the one they deem best suited for the youngsters. Mentors will then be designated through the electronic system.
“It’s great that they’re having their annual conference here and we can showcase the positive things going on and learn collectively from everyone, because ultimately we want to get better as a school system and community,’’ said Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie. “The mentoring piece we have is really exciting because it’s an opportunity to connect all the dots with folks and organizations that want to provide high-quality services.
“It’s one stop shopping where parents and families and students can go online and say, ‘I’m looking for this kind of support — after school, weekends, one on one, group.’
“This is our version of eHarmony,’’ he said.
Stephen, a culinary arts teacher at Miami Central High and chef and owner of OVER THE TOP Cakes & Catering, said the 100 Black Men of America gave him a view of a world he had no idea existed.
“There aren’t a lot of positive male role models in the neighborhood I come from,’’ said Stephen, who grew up with a single mother and no father in his life. “Mentors exposed us to the arts, took us to museums and plays and sponsored trips to conventions. They even arranged for me to be a page in the state Legislature for a week.
“Kids mimic what they see, and I saw what I could be.
“Now, I’m mentoring, too.’’