Students told to climb higher at Summit
By Dylan You - Staff Reporter
Young black and brown men can be ambitious, respectful and responsible members of a united community in spite of the low expectations society has set for them, said the keynote speaker at this year's Black and Brown Male Summit.
The seventh annual gathering took place in the Student Union last Saturday. The goal of the eight-hour event was to empower and motivate the black and brown young men to excel in academics and exceed in whatever they put their minds to. More than 700 high school and college students from all over Washington attended the summit.
Kevin Powell, a political activist and author of 11 books, started from the bottom: the only family he knew was his financially struggling mother, who lived in one bedroom with two families.
Despite harsh living conditions, his mother was vehement: he must go to college and live a better life than hers, Powell said. This despite peers saying that that her son would "end up like the rest of them."
"My mom didn't tell me this until I already had a job and graduated college because she didn't want me to be negative about my future," Powell said.
Powell shared the hope and determination his mother gave him with the future generation of black men at the summit by constantly reinforcing positive messages.
"Repeat after me: I am a genius," Powell said. The participants repeated this mantra over and over. Their voices grew louder and more united with each repetition.
Powell engaged his audience by stimulating discussion about their aspirations and opinions on leadership and masculinity.
"It's boring if you just have one guy stand up here and talk, so I want this to be a conversation," Powell said.
Much of the cafeteria was filled with young men who share similar dark skin tones. But after hearing their stories, it was clear they all held different hopes, dreams, backstories and values.
"I want to study engineering," a participant said.
"I want to be a psychologist because I want to help people," said another.
"I want to go to the NFL," said yet another.
Each participant had different ideas of what it means to be a man. A man is defined by his ability to persevere through adversity, one person said. Another said he believed a man was someone who is not afraid to cry and show his emotions.
Powell challenged his audience to question certain aspects of their lives.
"I'm sure many of you guys are into hip hop," Powell said. "Just like you guys, I'm a huge hip hop head."
But Powell doesn't find modern hip hop artists to be something young black and brown men should aspire to. Young men should not accept the drug-glorifying, sexist and violent themes that run rampant in modern hip hop music, he said.
Some jeered at Powell's request, but many saw eye to eye with him.
"Bro, who cares?" asked one audience member.
"Well people think of us in a bad way because of those people who rap about stupid things," said a different audience member.
Although various attendees had unique aspirations, opinions and stories, all of their stories shared a theme: they are trying to fight the racist attitudes held against them by uniting as one community.
"There's a lot of hatred going on within the black community right now," Powell said. People of color committing violence against each other was too common for a group of people who should be united as one community, he said. This, especially during a time when the prevalence of racist attitudes against people of color are rising.
"The people around you are all your brothers, they'll face the same struggle and discrimination as you," he said to the audience.
After Powell wrapped up the keynote, the participants were split into 16 groups for roundtable reflections.
Each person had his own reason for attending the summit. Many of the attendees woke up early on a Saturday to simply learn how they can impact their community.
"I think it's not just about the black and brown community," said 15-year-old Ethan Wilson. "I feel that even though I'm Asian, I can still impact my community."
"I wanted to get more educated," said 16-year-old Diego Martinez. "They don't teach stuff in school like this."
During lunch, hip hop music was blasted through the Student Union. Many young men of color went to the front stage along with 34-year-old volunteer Loyal Allen Jr. so that they could dance.
"As long as I'm current with the latest trends I know we can connect," Allen said.
As more and more people joined those who were dancing on stage, the once divided group of strangers had quickly turned into a united community full of smiling faces.
After lunch, the crowd heard various additional speakers. Clinton Taylor taught his group how to change their negative attitudes on life.
Brendan Nelson, the president of Nvision Professional Services, taught his group to reflect on the societal messages, concepts and stereotypes of masculinity.
"This gives us a sense of brotherhood," 16-year-old Ramon Abeyta said. "It makes us realize that we the people of color will face the same struggles in life and that we can go through it together."