Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 35, Number 2

Role Model Behavior

Al Dotson

Soon after Al Dotson, '87, arrived in Miami to start his legal career, he and nine other businessmen started 100 Black Men of South Florida. Founded in 1989, the new chapter extended the reach of its parent organization, 100 Black Men of America, throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

It also afforded Dotson, who is now an equity partner with Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod, an opportunity to fulfill an important personal goal: providing professional role models and mentors for young people who might otherwise have limited exposure to professional career opportunities. "We felt we had a social responsibility to address that need, and that's what brought us together to start the chapter," Dotson recalls. "Like the South Florida chapter, most of our other chapters worldwide have no staff, so it's the members who roll up their sleeves, go to the schools and provide the tutoring, healthy lifestyle guidance or financial literacy training."

Today, Dotson is chairman of the international 100 Black Men organization, overseeing the activities of 105 chapters worldwide. In addition to one-on-one mentoring, 100 Black Men and its local chapters provide hundreds of scholarships and sponsor educational opportunities for literally thousands of students each year. "Many of our chapters have direct linkages with local schools," he explains. "Others work with community organizations, churches and other groups. We even have chapters that own and operate their own schools."

But the most important thing 100 Black Men offers the young people who participate is "the opportunity to meet people they otherwise would not meet, who will expose them to career opportunities and positive life choices," Dotson says. "Our programs enable young people—many of whom have never left their neighborhoods—to travel to other cities and gain exposure to different cultures and lifestyles."

Dotson, who earned his undergraduate degree at Dartmouth, considers mentoring the most crucial aspect of the organization's mission because of his own experience. "I had a number of mentors, throughout my life, who played a significant role in shaping who I am today and who opened my eyes to opportunities," he says. "They included my barbers, pastors, teachers and coaches, and one gentleman I did not know who just decided to step up and share with me his thoughts on why law would be a good career for me."

Dotson believes his successful legal career representing real estate developers undertaking large-scale projects receives a boost from his volunteer opportunities. "Everyone I meet is either a client or a potential client," he says. "Through my work with 100 Black Men, I've been able to meet people who might not be familiar with Bilzin Sumberg's extensive expertise and capabilities."

In the 16 years since Dotson and his colleagues founded the South Florida chapter of 100 Black Men, he has had the singularly rewarding experience of having some of the young men he mentored return and join the organization. "There's nothing more rewarding than seeing that cycle complete itself and repeat itself," he says.