Dortch, Thomas W. Jr. 1950–
Thomas W. Dortch, Jr. 1950–
Thomas W. Dortch, Jr., is the chairman of the board of 100 Black Men of America, an acclaimed mentoring group with chapters in dozens of cities and communities in the United States. The longtime Atlantan is active in numerous other community and service groups, and is the founder of the National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame, among his other accomplishments. Once a top aide to a Georgia senator, Dortch is committed to paving the way for a new generation of achievers. “We’ve heard much criticism that black males don’t do this and that,” he explained in an interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Peter Scott. The work of 100 Black Men of America “is an effort to take care of our own, and that will benefit everybody.”
Dortch was born on April 12, 1950, in Toccoa, a town in north Georgia, and was the last of six children in the family. His father owned one restaurant there and two in other communities, and his mother worked at a child-development center, where she found her niche helping young mothers transition from welfare rolls into the workforce. Toccoa was a segregated town during Dortch’s youth, but he recalled that he felt nurtured and protected by his elders. “When people talk today about the village concept of raising a child, that worked for me in Toccoa,” he told Scott. “Whether it was right down the street or cross town, we had a full city of people who cared about kids and looked out for kids. They made sure we stayed on the straight and narrow and did not get into trouble.” Saturday-afternoon visits to the local barbershop were one way that Toccoa’s youth connected with the older generation. Often, “one of the older men would look up from his newspaper or his game of checkers and say: ‘You’re Tom’s boy, right? Well, what have you got to say for yourself?’” he recalled in his book, The Miracles of Mentoring: The Joy of Investing in Our Future. “This was not idle conversation; these men really wanted to know that we were on the right track.”
Dortch came of age during a time of immense change in the American South. He recalled trips to other schools for athletic contests, and their bus driving through all-white counties where graffiti was posted along the roadsides. “Don’t let the sun set on your black behind,” read a sign warning that trouble might befall any African American present there after dark. He graduated as salutatorian from the last segregated class at his Toccoa-area high school in 1968, and went on to enroll at a historically black school, Fort Valley State College. By the time he graduated with a degree in sociology in 1972 he was already active in Democratic Party politics, having worked on a voter-registration drive that helped bring Fort Valley’s first African-American mayor into office. He also lost a bid to become a delegate to the 1972 Democratic National Convention by just 16 votes.
Dortch eventually earned a master’s degree in criminal justice administration from Clark Atlanta University in 1985, but he spent most of the 1970s working for the Democratic Party of Georgia and in the office of U.S. Senator Sam Nunn. He served as Nunn’s state executive assistant from 1986 to 1990, and was promoted to state director in 1990. At the time, he was the first African American to hold such a post for a U.S.
Born on April 12, 1950, in Toccoa, GA; son of Thomas Wesley, Sr. (a restaurateur) and lizzie (a child-development center worker; maiden name, Porter) Dortch; married Carol Warren, September 16, 1985; five children. Education: Fort Valley State College, BA, sociology, 1972; Clark Atlanta University, MA, criminal justice administration, 1985. Politics: Democrat.
Career: Democratic Party of Georgia, Atlanta, GA, associate director, 1974-78; Office of U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, Atlanta, administrative aide, 1978-86, state executive assistant, 1986-90, state director, 1990-94; 100 Black Men of America, chairman of the board, 1994-; Atlanta Transportation Systems, founder and CEO, 1995-; TWD, Inc., Atlanta, founder and CEO, 1995–.
Selected memberships: Georgia Association of Minority Entrepreneurs (board member); Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials (advisory board member); National Black College Alumni Hall of Fame Foundation; Assault on Illiteracy Program; Atlanta Jewish/Black Coalition.
Selected awards; Georgia State University, Ford Fellow, 1972-74; Presidential Citation for Volunteerism, President George Bush, 1990; Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, Humanitarian Award, 1989; Fort Valley State College Alumni Hall of Fame, inductee.
Addresses: Office —100 Black Men of America, Inc., 141 Auburn Ave., Atlanta, GA 30303.
senator. As his career gained steam, Dortch became active in the 100 Black Men of Atlanta organization, one of several chapters of the national group, which had been founded in the early 1960s by future New York City Mayor David Dinkins, among others. The group recruited African American men—and, later, women—to pair with youth and teens living in at-risk communities. Dortch’s dedication to the group and its mission helped win him the national chairmanship in 1994; he was re-elected to the post in 2000.
The organization that Dortch heads has an impressive membership roster that includes U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, attorney Johnnie Cochran, and Richard Parsons, chair of Time-Warner. “We are very aware of the fact that we are the first generation of African Americans who have access to the opportunities—in education, careers, politics—that we have enjoyed,” Dortch wrote in The Miracles of Mentoring. “As such, we feel that we have a special obligation to serve as role models for the youth of our community.”
Dortch’s book was published in 2000, and serves as a how-to guide for those interested in becoming a role model and part of the support system for urban youth. The book features dozens of first-person anecdotes about the potential difficulties and roadblocks that mentors sometimes face, but also recounts an equal number of success stories from youth who benefited greatly from the experience—though, to their mentors, progress seemed decidedly stalled at times. Dortch also cites telling statistics: in one high school where 100 Black Men established a mentoring program, graduation rates went from 43 percent to 97 percent. The final chapter of The Miracles of Mentoring includes a list of dozens of organizations across the United States that offer similar programs. A Publishers Weekly review termed it an “inspirational and practical book.”
Dortch eventually left politics to become an entrepreneur. He is the founder of Atlanta Transportation Systems, established to provide shuttle services for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, and also runs TWD, Inc., a corporate-affairs and fund-raising consulting firm. Active in a long list of civic and professional organizations, he is co-founder of the Georgia Association of Minority Entrepreneurs, has served as national vice chair for the Assault on Illiteracy Program, and co-chaired the Atlanta Jewish/Black Coalition. Married and the father of five, Dortch underwent a bout with adenocarcinoma, a very rare cancer of the small intestine, in 1988. It was successfully treated, but as he wrote in The Miracles of Mentoring, he battled “feelings of fear, anguish, and uncertainty,” as he lay in his hospital bed. “The one thing I did not feel, however, was regret. In confronting mortality, I realized that I was proud of the choices I had made in my life…. I found great solace in the knowledge that I had succeeded in living up to a standard that my elders would be proud of.”
(With 100 Black Men of America) The Miracles of Mentoring: The Joy of Investing In Our Future, Broadway Books, 2000.
Dortch, Jr., Thomas W., and the 100 Black Men of America, The Miracles of Mentoring: The Joy of Investing in Our Future, Broadway Books, 2000.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 21, 1999, p. D10.
Black Issues Book Review, September 2000, p. 59.
Jet, August 8, 1994, p. 19; September 25, 2000, p. 39.
Psychology Today, September-October 2001, p. 74.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 2000, p. 217.
100 Black Men of America, Inc., www.l00blackmen.org/welcome.htm (May 4, 2004).
“Thomas W. Dortch, Jr.,” The History Makers, www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=180&category=CivicMakers (March 23, 2004).
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