Last weekend's Black Brown & College Bound program was designed with students like Noah Campbell in mind.
The late Dr. Sylvia Marion Carley began the three-day event at Hillsborough Community College in 2006 to strengthen the retention and graduation rates for African American and Latino men.
Thanks to her leadership, the program is nationally recognized, and this year attracted 275 students and advisors from colleges across the country to the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel.
More than 150 HCC students attended, from both the school’s Collegiate 100 and HOPE Scholars programs.
Each year, the school's HOPE Scholars program awards 40 students a $500 stipend and provides mentoring to assist them in transferring to a university or four-year college.
Campbell, 22, credits that program and the summit for transforming his life and motivating him to work hard for his career.
“In high school, I was very relaxed and stuck in my procrastination,” Campbell said.
"When I entered the program, they gave me the tools and skills that I needed to overcome that and helped me realize that I'm not the only one that goes through that."
Campbell's procrastination, he said, stemmed from a lack of focus. He spent much of his childhood shuttling between Florida and Pennsylvania, where his dad lived after his parents divorced.
Dr. Ken Atwater, HCC President, said the college is intent on continuing Dr. Carley's legacy to assist students like Campbell.
"A lot of times, minority males are first-generation college students that don't have an example before them, lack preparation or have financial barriers that prohibit them from graduating college," said Atwater.
Marvin Montenegro, 21, said the program has helped him chart a course for his future.
At 15, he moved to the United States from Nicaragua to live with his mother. But tensions in their relationship led him to move in with his grandparents. After graduating from high school, he took a year off and worked at a pizza restaurant.
Still, he lacked direction and focus.
“I was working, but I felt like I was missing something,” Montenegro said.
He enrolled at HCC, where his motivation caught the attention of professors who encouraged him to apply for the HOPE Scholars program.
Montenegro, who wants to start his own business, described the program’s value as beyond monetary for him.
“It’s a small scholarship, but to me, it’s more like a brotherhood.”
The conference featured panels and student workshops in networking, career development and financial literacy. In past years, the event has drawn high profile speakers, including Magic Johnson, John Legend and Colin Powell.
This year's conference, themed "All Hands on Deck", was no different.
Speakers included John Quiñones of ABC News, CBS sportscaster James Brown and Georgetown University professor and author, Michael Eric Dyson.
Dyson said it was essential for him to support the program.
"It's extremely important for young men of color to go to college and to give as much attention to recruiting them to college as we do basketball players and football players," he said.
In preparing his speech, Dyson, 60, conceded he was that "old man disgustingly trying to be young and relevant" by spitting hip hop lyrics. But ultimately he said he planned to challenge students to learn something from his generation.
"Unfortunately, some of the problems we confront persist over generations," Dyson said. "Despite the progress, there's been extraordinary obstacles and impediments. And what we did in my generation might be relevant or spark what they can do in their generation to come."
And in his speech he did just that — bounce between generations.
Dyson often chanted lyrics from contemporary rappers like Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Cardi B, as well as artists like The Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye. The audience at times sang in unison with Dyson and at times erupted in laughter and standing ovations when he spoke profoundly about how a man should pursue a woman, white supremacy and his opinions on President Trump.
"Keep on living and see what you see," he said, "the miseries, the heart and the heartbreak, the repetition of hegemony to go work for dominance. Keep on living and you'll see the disease in a culture that still doesn't want to accept you as a black or brown person."
Ultimately, Dyson urged his audience to overcome hate and a lack of resources with hard work.
“You got to keep fighting. You got to keep getting up. You got to keep studying hard. You got to keep getting your lesson. You got to keep applying your intelligence to the problem at hand. You cannot let anybody step in your way or stop the progress you made for the gift that God gave to you!"
Contact Monique Welch at [email protected] or Follow Mo_UNIQUE_ .