White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak

SCAIIIRapsi2014feb23By Jackie Weatherspoon

Black History Month will be celebrated at St. Philips Church in collaboration with St. Philips Church Credit Union, RAP-SI  Reading, Achievement, Professionalism Success Institute a project of the CUNY BMI (Black Male Initiative). The mission of BMI is to increase, encourage, and support the retention and educational success of black males but open to all under-represented groups in higher education through peer mentoring, E-Mentoring, textbook loans and a Speaker Forum, to celebrate the 6th Anniversary of the life of and passion if State Senator Chuck Allen III Scholarship. The fund will support high School seniors and college students in Connecticut and New  York. The celebration will host a high level panel with the Honorable Adam Clayton Powell IV, Father Keith Johnson, St. Philips Church and Dr. Gordon Thompson covering the topic; White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak on February 23, 2014 1:00pm.

Today at the White House the President of the United States Barak Obama signed an executive order called “My Brothers Keeper.” The president says this is a moral  and economic issue, the plight of Males of Color growing up in the united states. The President also stated, “some groups are doing worst in our society”. The plight of males of color are unique and they require unique opportunities. He said, “we take it as a norm the way they are treated by our society, failing schools, dropout rates, incarceration rates.” In fact the President sited the parents of Trayvon Martin and Michel Dunn were at the signing. He says “we as Americans should want all American children to succeed, we should be outraged and be compelled to act. They are our future workforce, when they lag behind, our economy lags behind.” President Obama is putting $200million dollars toward this initiative and already has the support of foundations, judges, politicians.

Our panel on Sunday came to some of the same conclusions.

Mr. Chike Ukaegbu, is author and originator of The HEROES Model, he is a alumni Fellow of the prestigious Colin Powell Center for Leadership and Policy Studies, focusing on Youth related policies. He studied Biomedical Engineering at the City College of New York where he is currently a Math and Entrepreneurship Instructor. Chike has been involved in youth policy research and evaluation for more than a decade and co-founded Re:LIFE Inc, an NYC nonprofit with a mission to empower youth through entrepreneurship and education.

As a speaker on the ‘White Walls: Men of Color in Higher Education Speak’ panel at the St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Mr. Ukaegbu sees the need to focus on education and entrepreneurship as an empowerment tool. He developed the HEROES Model to present a more holistic approach to youth service provision. HEROES is an acronym for Heritage, Education, Relationships, Opportunities, Entrepreneurship and Service – six crucial areas needed in youth service provision and necessary for youth development and reconnection to be effective. He tries to find innovative and holistic ways to make education appealing to youth, while also teaching them about entrepreneurship and how to create wealth. This will lead to the creation of honest wealth and economic independence for them, their families and communities. He says the current system/model of youth re-connection in America, which focuses on job placement has been mostly ineffective because it centers on placing youths in low paying jobs without the proper training to effectively boost longevity in the work place. This inefficiency leads to the revolving door of the industrial prison system. He wants young black males to understand they are smart but to use their smarts in an ethical and creative way towards independence and wealth creation. Young black males also need to be trained for job retention, working on teams, respect and timeliness in the work place in order to thrive as employees.

A young woman on the panel has another perspective: Ms. Dzindzi Asamoah-Wade a senior at the City College of New York, says;

Personally, I feel that the voice of the black woman is still washed out in conversations about the uplift of the black community through higher education. It is a fact that there are more black women enrolled in college and graduating each year than black men but we still face a lot of the same struggles and issues. I think that if the conversation were opened up to “ensuring the success of black students” then the voices and input of women would be more welcomed and revered. The solutions that women have offered to help better the plight of black men in higher education are being heard but not necessarily implemented. Or the solutions proposed by women are heard, then reiterated by a male voice and then implemented, which fades the strength of her initial input.

There are a few things that our males are not doing that would increase their success. There are many programs and opportunities out there to help black males succeed but they are not being utilized. At City College, the Rap-Si Program offers free peer mentoring and tutoring serves yet enrollment in the program is relatively low. One thing that would help people find these services is networking and increasing connectedness in the black school community. Also, the right conversation are taking place, with the right ideas flowing but then what happens afterwards? One thing mentioned by one of my fellow panel members this past Sunday was the need to increase an emphasis on action. Having the conversation about how to increase black male success is one thing but action must follow to actually achieve this.

The moderator of the panel, The Honorable Adam Clayton Powell IV, most interesting sounded as if he was in the room with the President today, here is what he says:

“I would like to stress after hearing a member of the panel, as the old African Proverb says and made famous by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “It Takes A Village to Raise a Child”. That village consists in part of parents, church folk, teachers and even police on patrol.  During my childhood, the police on patrol knew folks in the community. Now that role has tended to be blown out of proportion, they no longer have the role as a supporter but as judge and prosecutor and in some cases with the use of technology, cameras, videos, you lose a chance at life, you are branded. New York and North Carolina are the only two states in our Union which prosecutes children at the age of 16 years as  adults. Chief Justice of the State Judiciary. The Hon. Jonathan Lipman would like to change the statue have their records expunged after 7 years if a misdemeanor was committed and 10 years if a non violent felony. People should not be branded for life.” Hon. Powell would also like to stress to young people, attend and stay in school, get your degree, that will follow you into history.

So, now we have an Executive Order from the President, we have the video of the two young men who attended a preparatory school and video taped for over 13 years, “Promises Kept”, in Harlem we have many programs including the Harlem Children’s Zone and many charter school. What the panel was saying we need more action, more engagement and need to respond to the needs of women simultaneously.

The Hon. Jackie K. Weatherspoon, served six years in the NH H of R. Her grandparents, her mom and seven  aunts and uncles grew up around the corner from St. Philips during the 1930′s. When in NY Jackie and her husband Russell D. Weatherspoon, the Dean of Multicultural Affairs at Phillips Exeter Academy in NH make St. Philips their second home.

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