Conference Helps Young Men of Color Look Forward

African American students in a meeting room

Nearly 200 middle and high school students attended the first Young Men of Color Conference, held at Drake University.

Saturday was a colorful day on the campus of Drake University, inside and out.

Outdoors, autumn was everywhere in all its splendor.

And indoors at the Olmstead Center the first annual Young Men of Color Conference pulsed with a positive energy, most of it coming from some 200 DMPS middle school and high school students who came, dressed for success, to pick the brains of a host of positive examples and role models.

Presented under the joint auspices of DMPS, Drake, Urban Dreams, the Institute for Student Empowerment (ISE) and Hip-Hope Inc., the event was a day-long program of keynote speakers and small group workshops designed to “empower young men socially, emotionally, and intellectually.”

One of the keynoters was Wes Hall, an author and radio personality from Los Angeles and the CEO of ISE who grew up in Des Moines attending Harding Junior High/Middle School and Tech High before it morphed into Central Campus.

“I’m so excited to be back in Des Moines and to see the enthusiasm for this conference,” he said during a break in the morning itinerary. “The mayor even made a proclamation for Young Men of Color Day as a demonstration of the importance to the whole community that we lift up our African-American males and show them a better way to go.”

Breakout sessions included topics like college planning, financial literacy and social networking (attendance at this event being a prime example). DMPS Director of Middle Schools Corey Harris presided in one and delivered a powerful message based on his personal determination to chart a better course for his life than those taken by his siblings.

“I never thought seriously about going to college until I was in 12th grade,” he told a group. “But because I had always taken my schoolwork seriously I was offered a full academic scholarship. I had kept myself in the game.”

The district’s central role in presenting the conference was an obligation according to Chief of Schools Matt Smith.

“This is a game-changing event,” he declared. “It is going to impact students’ lives and improve outcomes and it is absolutely the right thing for the district to be involved. We owe it to these young men.”

Besides district administrators the school board too was front and center. Board members Teree Caldwell Johnson, Heather Anderson-Morrow, Cindy Elsbernd and Dionna Langford were all included on the conference program.

Participating students were asked to sign a Call to Action and pledge “to take immediate action to stop derailing behaviors, habits, thoughts and deeds…exhibiting appropriate behaviors, completing all classes with high grades, attaining a healthy lifestyle and graduating from high school college-prepared and career-ready.”

DMPS Student Activities Coordinator Jason Allen, another of the positive role models on hand for the students to observe, was himself there as an observer with an eye on next year’s event and beyond.

“This is the first time,” he noted as the morning agenda gave way to a break for lunch. “We have seen enough already to be pleased and call this a success. But we can make it better, too, and we will.”

You have to start somewhere and the YMOC Conference is starting at the crossroads of students’ lives, offering direction from good men with footsteps worth following.

Video from the Young Men of Color Conference

Photos from the Young Men of Color Conference

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