Rudley Works to Help Youth Become Cougars, Leaders

March 20, 2007

John Rudley’s childhood lessons in leadership took him from his home in Benton Harbor, Mich., to the accounting firm of Coopers and Lybrand to the vice presidency for administration and finance at the University of Houston.

Now, Rudley is showing those lessons to a group of young males from some of Houston’s low-income neighborhoods, with hopes of inspiring them to become future Cougars and leaders.

Rudley is passionate about helping young African-American males excel, particularly in his role as president of the Houston chapter of the 100 Black Men of America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life within African-American communities and to enhancing educational and economic opportunities for all African Americans.

“There is a need for black men to respond to the critical problems we face in raising our children, especially young men,” Rudley said. “I am happy to say that the 100 Black Men of America’s mentorship programs across the nation are making a difference.”

When Rudley took the helm of Houston’s chapter of the 100 Black Men of America last semester, he set three goals for the organization — to increase its membership, to refine Project Success, a post-secondary preparation and tuition assistance program, and to raise scholarship funds for Project Success participants to attend UH.

“Right now, we have about 12 mentees in Project Success in Houston,” Rudley said. “We plan to grow the program to about 50 boys.”

The program provides group and individual mentoring to males ages 11 to 17. The organization’s members meet the boys twice a month at Third Ward’s Judson Robinson Community Center, where their discussions go beyond male bonding. A curriculum covers topics such as communication skills, goal-setting and career planning. Participants also hear from prominent African American businessmen such as Jodie Jiles, managing director of RBC Capital Markets, and Gerald Smith, chairman and chief executive officer of Smith Graham and Co. Jiles and Smith also are Greater Houston Partnership board members.

Participants also enjoy field trips, including a recent outing to UH’s Melcher Center for Public Broadcasting — a tour arranged by UH staff member Morris Bennett, project manager in facilities, planning and construction and member of the 100 Black Men of America, Houston chapter.

“It was exciting and educational for them to see how television and radio stations operate,” Bennett said. “In the future, we’re planning tours of the Bauer College of Business, the police station and the University Eye Institute.”

Although group sessions and field trips are beneficial to the boys, the individual mentoring is “where you can make a personal impact,” Rudley said. He paused before describing the challenges his 13-year-old mentee faces.

“I’ve seen the dysfunction in my protégé’s life,” Rudley said. “His mother is a reformed drug addict with five children. His father is in prison, and the young man has lived in three households in one year.”

Despite these obstacles, the young man has made progress since he joined the mentoring program two years ago, which makes the mentoring worthwhile and satisfying, Rudley said.

Rudley’s commitment to Houston’s 100 Black Men of America chapter and its mentorship program stems from his own experience as a youth.

“Charles Gray, who was an affiliate with the YMCA in Benton Harbor, was a great mentor to me and many other kids,” Rudley said. “Our parents weren’t talking to us about going to college. They were talking to us about getting a job at General Motors or Whirlpool.

“He told us, ‘You can go to college. You don’t have to listen to the wealthier kids talk about going to Michigan State University or another university and not be part of the conversation. When people ask what you’re going to do, tell them you’re going to college.’”

Years later, Rudley received his Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Toledo. He also earned a Master of Education in administration and supervision and a doctorate in administration from Tennessee State University.

Rudley now heads a department of more than 750 UH staffers, and he wants the young men participating in Project Success to one day become leaders, too.

Francine Parker