Grade school students across the country will soon say ‘goodbye teachers,’ and ‘hello summer break.’ Many of these students are college bound and have in their educational arsenal tools gained from Clemson’s Men of Color National Summit.

Summit attendees listening to one of several keynote speakers. Image credit: University Relations

Summit attendees listening to one of several keynote speakers. Image credit: University Relations

The Summit, touted as one of the most impactful higher education events in the Southeast, creates college and career pathways for male students of color. The two-day event is now celebrated as an award-winning summit by Furman University’s Riley Institute.

Each year, the Institute partners with the Greenville Chamber of Commerce and other Upstate chambers to present the Upstate Diversity Leadership Awards Dinner. This year, Clemson is the recipient of the Outstanding Nonprofit Award because of its, “incredible work, efforts and leadership in promoting diversity and inclusion.”

The Upstate Diversity Leadership Awards Dinner is Tues., May 28 at the Hyatt Regency in Greenville.

“Students at Clemson University are privy to a wealth of resources. We see the Men of Color National Summit as an extension of this wealth and much more,” said Lee Gill, Clemson’s chief inclusion officer. “We’ve enjoyed three consecutive years of sold-out summits. We believe this is a reflection of Clemson’s commitment to seeing that students in South Carolina and around the country know they can get to college and see the careers of their choice come to fruition.”

President Clements introduces Tiger Alliance seniors. Image credit: University Relations

President Clements introduces Tiger Alliance seniors. Image credit: University Relations

Summit Opening

The Men of Color National Summit is one of several pipelines to higher education for underrepresented students. President Jim Clements explained why Clemson works hard to ensure all students excel as he greeted the 2000 plus guests on day one of the summit.

“I know we need to work harder to close the achievement gap that exists in this country,” Clements said. “I truly believe in the life-changing, transformational powers of education, and that education is a path to a better life not just for an individual but for society as a whole.”

Members of Clemson’s Board of Trustees also attended the Summit.  Board chairman, Smyth McKissick encouraged young people to push through challenges that may seem insurmountable.

Members of Clemson's Board of Trustees and Executive Leadership Team gather for a picture at the Men of Color National Summit. Image credit: University Relations

Members of Clemson’s Board of Trustees and Executive Leadership Team gather for a picture at the Men of Color National Summit. Image credit: University Relations

“Challenge yourself to think differently about how you approach your path to college and set goals,” he said. “You’re now part of the Clemson family. Your success is our success.”

Clemson’s Tiger Alliance and Emerging Scholars

Matthew Kirk speaks to members of Tiger Alliance during the Summit. Image credit: University Relations

Matthew Kirk speaks to members of Tiger Alliance during the Summit. Image credit: University Relations

At the center of the summit is Clemson’s Tiger Alliance, a college access program designed for South Carolina African American and Hispanic males in grades nine through 12. Program participants benefit from information about college fairs and expos, a mentoring relationship with a current college student, college-prep workshops, college tours and attendance at the Men of Color National Summit.

More than 400 Tiger Alliance members attended the 2019 Summit.

Tiger Alliance members pose with the Tiger during the Men of Color National Summit. Image credit: University Relations

Tiger Alliance members pose with the Tiger during the Men of Color National Summit. Image credit: University Relations

“I am still reeling from the powerful messages of hope and inspiration my students received at the Men of Color Summit this year,” said Matthew Kirk, director of Clemson’s Tiger Alliance. “I have received numerous reports of students being empowered by the various keynote speakers, breakout sessions and time spent with their Tiger Alliance Ambassadors.”

Kirk said Tiger Alliance ambassadors delivered powerful messages to students by sharing their personal journeys.

“The ambassadors’ ‘take a chance on yourself’ directive really resonated with the students,” Kirk said.

That message echoed through the halls of the Greenville Convention Center as keynote speakers and session presenters enlightened, inspired and motivated, not only high school students, but also their parents/guardians, college students, educators, business and community leaders around the country.

Julio Hernandez, chief of staff for Clemson Inclusion and Equity. Image credit: University Relations

Julio Hernandez, chief of staff for Clemson Inclusion and Equity. Image credit: University Relations

Another 200 students from Clemson’s Emerging Scholars Program also attended the summit as part of their concentration on academic preparation. Students in the program stay on Clemson’s campus several times throughout the program to develop leadership skills and gain a better understanding of the college application process.

Julio Hernandez is the newly appointed chief of staff for Clemson’s Division of Inclusion and Equity. He spent time with Tiger Alliance members during the summit and found himself on the receiving end of inspiration.

Attendees listen to speakers during the Summit. Image credit: University Relations

Attendees listen to speakers during the Summit. Image credit: University Relations

“I was happy to hear directly from the students,” Hernandez said. “Their energy was infectious! We made a pact to stay connected throughout their college journey; moreover, we made a commitment to recruit other Tiger Alliance members. We agreed it is our responsibility to share words of wisdom to other up and coming young leaders.”

Keynote Speakers and Presenters

The Summit’s list of distinguished keynote speakers and presenters offered many of these words of wisdom.

Geoffrey Canada

Geoffrey Canada

Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone, encouraged students to stand up for what they believe in, never give up and prepare for the moment that could shape their lives.

“I don’t care what obstacles you have had to face in your life – if you feel neglected, ignored, I’m telling you that you cannot give up,” Canada told them. “You have no idea what God has in store for you.”

Univision CommunicationsRonald Estrada opened his toolkit of secrets to success by encouraging students to develop their emotional intelligence, take chances and build connections.

Ronald Estrada

Ronald Estrada

“Take the connections you’ve made with one another,” he said. “Because you never know when we’re going to need each other. Now – right now – we have the power and power is in uniting. It’s in community.”

Wake Forest University professor, political analyst and TV personality, Melissa Harris-Perry, packed the house for a message on equity.

Melissa Harris-Perry

Melissa Harris-Perry

Harris-Perry asked attendees to think about “the stories we tell about the challenges facing our community, what questions we can use to challenge those stories, and how these questions help us create more socially just outcomes.”

The Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest, founding director of the Julia Cooper Center and co-founder of Wake the Vote said there is much data supporting the idea of a racial achievement gap, but “What are we actually measuring? What do you mean by achievement?”

Harris-Perry spoke of the disparity in school suspension rates among blacks and whites, pay inequities for black women, and how income often doesn’t translate into wealth even for college graduates of color often saddled with staggering loads of student debt.

“College does not cure wealth gaps,” she said. “You will earn more income, but wealth and income are not the same thing.”

President Freeman Hrabowski, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

President Freeman Hrabowski, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County dangled more keys to success in front of students. President Freeman Hrabowski told students, “If you watch your thoughts, young people, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”

Hrabowski, who is president Clement’s mentor, said character has everything to do with who a person is when they don’t think anyone can see them.

“Watch your character. It becomes your destiny,” he said.

Joy Thomas Moore

Joy Thomas Moore

Like Harris-Perry, Joy Thomas Moore also brought a woman’s and mother’s perspective to the Summit. The Peabody Award winner is president and CEO of JWS Media Consulting. She is also the mother of author Wes Moore.

Thomas Moore told the parable of an eagle who was raised as a chicken and refused to take flight.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not an eagle. You are,” she said. “You have survived all kinds of injustices. You have an eagle heart.”

The widow and mother of three children explained how competing voices can weaken an individual’s inner-strength.

“There are a lot of chickens out there that want you to believe you’re not an eagle,” Moore said.

UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera encouraged students to take advantage of opportunities presented to them as they face societal challenges.

Pedro Noguera

Pedro Noguera

Noguera, UCLA’s Distinguished Professor of Education and faculty director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools, said the odds are stacked against students of color who are disproportionately suspended from school and placed in special education classes.

“The risks are real,” Noguera said. “And too often the schools that have ostensibly been set up to help us are not the places we get our help. They are the places where failure begins.”

Noguera called mass incarceration in America, “a shame and a disgrace.” He said black men are locked up at alarming rates.

“Who do we incarcerate? Those we fail to educate,” he said.

Noguera recalled telling inmates in a prison he visited, “There’s a conspiracy to keep you here. ” My question to you is, ‘Are you part of the conspiracy, too?’ Because this whole system doesn’t work if you don’t participate in it, too,” he told them.

Noguera told summit attendees, “Education is still the key to our liberation. The key to our freedom. Because it is only through education that you begin to change the odds. And only through education that we begin to ensure the next generation will have it better than the current generation,” he said.

Other high-profile presenters and session outbreaks

Summit attendees also heard from other high-profile speakers, including:

  • Reginald Bean, vice president of culture, engagement and stewardship at Coca-Cola Consolidated
  • Anton Gunn, author, leadership consultant, presidential advisor and diversity officer and,
  • Lamman Rucker, actor, educator, activist and entrepreneur

Other presenters delivered messages, provided information and resources on five summit themes:

  • Career and professional development
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Personal identity
  • Retention rates, graduation and student achievement
  • Social/community engagement

College students from the Carolinas and Georgia to Illinois and California also attended the 2019.

Representatives from Clemson’s seven colleges, its libraries and graduate school set up information booths for attendees to examine the university’s many programs. Area businesses and branches of the military also set up shop.

L-R Chief Inclusion Officer Lee Gill with Chuck Knepfle, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, and keynote speaker Melissa Harris-Perry. Image credit: University Relations

L-R Chief Inclusion Officer Lee Gill with Chuck Knepfle, Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management, and keynote speaker Melissa Harris-Perry. Image credit: University Relations

“I continue to believe that this is the most impactful event in my entire career that I have been personally involved with,” said Chuck Knepfle, associate vice president for Clemson Enrollment Management. “The highlight to me is that we put mentors and heroes in front of these students who they can relate to, but who also deliver a message about developing a strong character, overcoming adversity, and being successful.”

Clemson added two new initiatives to the 2019 Men of Color National Summit – The Lowcountry Student Summit, and the Men of Color Pre-Summit Institute.

Organizers are already working on 2020’s Men of Color National Summit.

“While it can be hard for some to imagine, we intend to make it bigger and better each year,” said Lee Gill. “Clemson is leading the way in inclusion and equity by providing these critical pipelines to student success.“

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Click here for  more pictures from the 2019 Clemson University Men of Color National Summit.