TAMPA — The Black, Brown & College Bound Summit has operated for years with lineups of impressive speakers designed to inspire young black and Latino men to succeed in college. The speakers have always been fantastic, organizers said, but there was something missing. Last year, they realized what it was.
Young voices. Black and Latino men who had been through it, who were still going through it, struggling through life and staying in college. A panel of people to give faces to the numbers.
Black and Latino males lag behind white peers when it comes to graduating from high school. The Schott Foundation for Public Education found that the gap between black and white male graduation rates narrowed by only 3 percent in the past decade. In Florida's 2009-10 school year, graduation rates were 47 percent for black males and 58 percent for Latino males, versus 62 percent for white males.
On Friday, 15 college men from Florida and beyond spoke on stage at the Tampa Marriott Waterside as part of the summit presented by Hillsborough Community College. The goal was to give real messages to the 450 educators and students there. They filled out a speaking roster that included MSNBC analyst Michael Eric Dyson, activist Samuel Betances and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Dekoda Watson.
Here are some of the stories they shared with the room:
Jorge Polanco, 27, Hillsborough Community College
"Right when I got out of high school, I started working for a bank. My manager, his name was Jason, told me, 'Jorge, you're young. You should go back to school. You're going to achieve only so high without a degree. … ' Then I went ahead and lost that job because of downsizing. … I decided to move to Puerto Rico and pick up surfing and work for a bakery getting paid $5 an hour. I was happy. I was driving a 1996 Mitsubishi Mirage on a full tank. Then a distant cousin that I hadn't seen for years … she asked a family member how I was doing and they told her that I was surfing. … She was like, 'Why don't you get your act together and come to Florida and get an education?' … Think about it. … ' She opened up the doors."
Michael McAllister, 26, Brevard Community College
"I'm from the suburbs, a very average family, but I started off into trouble. The first time I ever got arrested was at 17 years old, still in high school, and I'm telling this story because I'm pretty sure everyone knows someone that's intelligent that makes the wrong decisions. And during my ride to the precinct, there was a black and a white cop. And I get to the precinct and the black cop pulls me aside. He knows I'm young … and he decided to talk to me. The white cop said, 'You know what, don't worry about it. We'll see him again. … ' And then the other cop said, 'You see that? You've got to break that negative cycle. That's what they're teaching us to think. That's what they think about you. They think that the only road you have is in the jails. And he really, honestly believes that he'll see you again. ... So what you have to do as a person is break that cycle.' "
Monty Alcindor, 19, Valencia College
"I can remember back in high school that I wanted to see African-American males dress up just one day out of the week. So I started dressing up four days out of the week, and believe it or not, they will actually notice you. They won't tell you, but they'll notice you. And then more and more of my classmates started doing it. And there became a day on campus where everyone would dress up. I think of the man in the mirror. You judge yourself first and you go out and maybe you can point out things that you don't see so right about others, and you can tell them that that's not right in your community, that's not the way a person is supposed to dress in this educational environment. … It's like a domino effect. It falls on others, their cousins, their little brothers and sisters."
Marc Miller, 21, California University of Pennsylvania
"In high school I wasn't on track. I started my freshman year with the wrong people, not really doing the classwork, and my GPA dropped dramatically below a 2.0. And I saw my little brother following in my path. He was two years younger than me and he brought a weapon to school and got locked up, and when he told me that if I could get in trouble why can't he, that made me change my life around. That made me look into my future and see that my younger siblings are looking up to me as their role model. … After I saw that, I stopped everything I was doing, started getting into my grades. I had a 3.3 coming out of high school. My brother, he changed his life around as well, and he's starting to go to college, and my little sister, she's starting to want to go to college as well, and she's only 12."
Luckson Abraham, 18, Saint Leo University
"My mom raised me by herself since I was little. … She worked at McDonald's and then she progressed to working at Publix. … I just knew that I didn't like watching her struggle, so I knew that I had to make something out of myself just so that I could come back and help my mom. So throughout my life I just always did the best I could to go to college, applied for a bunch of scholarships to be where I am today. I graduated high school cum laude, top 18 percent, with a 4.5 GPA. … I'm trying to do my best and go somewhere and make it in life because I know my mom struggled for a long time trying to raise me to be a great man."