As a teenager, Anthony Flynn was so bent on escaping the blight and danger of his life in Memphis, Tenn., that he resorted to something unthinkable: He signed up to take Latin.
“My eighth-grade English teacher, a great mentor to me, was against me going to my zoned high school,” recalls Flynn, the new executive director and COO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta Inc. (100blackmen-atlanta.org). “To get me into Germantown High School, I had to take Latin—pretty much as an excuse to go there. I had to file with the board of education every year to stay in the program.”
Flynn got out, as they say, and has flourished in his professional life, which saw him take over the 32-year-old service organization in July. Atlanta’s is the largest of the 110 chapters of 100 Black Men of America, which was founded during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s to mentor and empower African-American youth. Among A-Town’s 200-plus members are such luminaries as former Atlanta Mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, National Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, V103-FM radio personality Big Tigg and Super Soaker inventor Lonnie Johnson.
Flynn, 41, a husband and father of two who lives in Roswell, says a quest for achievement was wired into his DNA from an early age. “I was empowered by pain and poverty,” he asserts. At 24, the University of Memphis graduate held a prestigious, high-paying sales job at 3M. “I was living the dream—but it wasn’t my dream,” he says. “I thought success in the corporate world would bring me happiness and joy, but it left a gaping hole in my heart. I spent most of my life escaping pain, but I realized that a fancy car, nice suits and cuff links only perpetuated the pain.”
For Flynn, moving to the nonprofit world proved the only viable option. And although he deals with his share of pain like anyone else, at least he doesn’t have to study Latin anymore.