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You could almost hear the shattering sounds of stereotypes breaking at the 5th Annual Young African American Male’s Conference. Over 300 young men and mentors came out to Pasadena City College Saturday, September 27, embracing the event theme, “Success by Choice,” sponsored by the Metropolitan Community Action Services Corporation (MCASC).
Pride was the word most repeated by exhibitors as they smiled watching young men ranging in ages from teens to late twenties, eagerly move among display tables and workshops to hear successful Black male role models share their knowledge and wisdom.
The workshop facilitators offered a broad range of expertise exposing the young men to careers in science, entrepreneurship, professional and vocational careers. They also received practical life skills information and tools ranging from planning for the future, to how to handle challenges in predominately White classes.
Parents attended separate presentations on “How to Raise Young Black Boys,” “Preparing Our Young Men for College,” and “Helping Your Child to be Successful in School.”
“We’re proud that this is our fifth year having the opportunity to bring our young men positive male role models so we can continue to follow the theme, “Each One Reach One,” said conference Chairman of the Board, Albert Stephens.
Pastor Tyrone Skinner of the Metropolitan Baptist Church conceived “The Young African American Male’s Conference” in a vision he had to build MCASC, a non-profit outreach organization, an arm of the church, to serve the needs of individuals, families, youth services and seniors. He also attributes his inspiration from his mentor, Dr. J. Benjamin Hardwick, President of the Western Baptist State Convention.
“Pastor Hardwick has always had a heart for young people and the community,” said Pastor Skinner who is following in his footsteps. “I think it’s the church’s role and responsibility to build a wholesome, well-rounded view of what is possible.”
Samuel Reed, a student at Pasadena City College with a double major in Political Science and Psychology, was excited over the conference.
“It empowers African American males,” says Reed who is also vice president of Ujima, a one-year transfer program that focuses on African American/Black cultural issues for academic success. “Normally a gathering of Black males is a negative combination when people see us together. But this is something positive. When you are connected to strong network of people of color like this conference, it strengthens you. This is like a tree. It has to have strong roots or it will wither and die.”
The conference had a strong network of Black male mentors from all career fields who were facilitators and presenters of workshops. They included: architect, construction worker, college Dean, Academy Award nominee filmmaker, college chemistry professor, investment banker, high school principal and teacher. The keynote speaker John Harrel, Jr., was a former incarcerated gang member who is now a general foreman managing multi-million dollar electrical construction projects.
People drawn to support the conference and to support the young men were inspired.
Walter Jackson, author of “Sporting the Right Attitude: Lessons Learned in a Troubled Family,” a new self-help book and memoir for young adults which features super-star athletes overcoming challenges,” says he hopes more African-Americans will tell their stories like those heard at the conference.
“There is a book in each and every one of us. These stories told today are history that we need to preserve and pass them down through generations,” says Jackson. “I didn’t know about this conference when my sons were growing up or I would have definitely brought them here,” says Jackson whose two sons are a U.S. Marine, and a recent college graduate. “These young men have come here today for tools and information to be successful in life. This is the first step for them moving their lives forward.”
Pastor Henry Alvin Johnson, of the New Dawn Missionary Baptist Church who had a successful career as a television special promotions director for KCOP TV, was amazed at how Pasadena City College has grown since he graduated from the college in 1968. Pastor Johnson, heads the education committee of 30 Pasadena churches which have come together to adopt schools. He attributes 50 gang members who have come out of gangs and into Bible study at the Jackie Robinson Center as their greatest achievement.
Marveling at the conference and the influence it has on the young Black males the Pastor said, “We are all points of light. You collect that light together and it becomes a powerful laser cutting around men’s hearts.”
James Nash, director of CBS News, was also among those interested mentors who came to support the conference’s young men. Nash volunteers with “Friends of Cleveland Elementary School,” a group of parents who have adopted the school to provide funding and support even though the members have grown children. Noting the importance of the conference and all who mentor young people, Nash said, “We are not just reaching back. We are grabbing these young people and bringing them forward.”
Leafing through the program of “The Young African American Male’s Conference,” a bold, large, phrase catches the eye for all young people to remember, “Choice, not chance determines your destiny.”