Nathaniel Stanley knows how easy it would have been to take the wrong path.

The Davenport University sophomore said that's the importance of conferences like the 2nd Annual African-American Male Conference held at Grand Rapids Community College. The message of speakers and organizers to more than 600 area high school students included the importance of personal accountability, responsibility and recognizing the smart choice.

Tony Jolliffi of the Grand Rapids African-American Health Institute advised students to take responsibility for being an adult

Stanley wishes more students embraced that message. He said it's one that he was fortunate enough to grasp years ago. But he admits there were times when his path could have led to trouble rather than to his present situation -- being on track to graduate from Davenport University in two years.

"It's important to see people who are successful," said Stanley, a computer science major. "Anything can go wrong, but I had people who persuaded me to go to college, to take the next step and better myself.

Huey Copeland of the NAACP signs up new members for his organization at the African American Male Conference held at Ford Fieldhouse
"But there was always a lot of temptation," he added.
 

The conference held at Ford Fieldhouse included more than 20 workshops and speakers. Topics included interaction with law enforcement, career motivation, the importance of social media, black history and living with adversity. The event was a partnership between the Urban League, Grand Rapids Public Schools, and GRCC's Upward Bound program and Alpha Beta Omega leadership development program.

Rhondo Cooper, director of Upward Bound, said the first step on a successful path is for young people to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.

"It's about letting them know who they are and which way they're supposed to go," Cooper said. "Instead of following proscribed roles, we want to help provide prescribed roles. We want to help them learn what they can do in their communities and what they can do better later in life."

Cooper said the message includes the suggestion that if youth don't define their own roles, someone else likely will make that choice for them -- and there's a good chance it could be harmful.

Countering The Wrong Message

Cooper said the message to young adults is sometimes clouded by the media, television, radio, social media and even peer groups. Their definition of what constitutes success doesn't always mesh with young minds.

"A lot of them will tell you what they think you should be like as a man or woman," he said. "Young people today have more choices than you or I have ever seen. That's why there is an advantage for successful people to step in and point kids in the right direction."

Javonte Ford, athletic admissions representative and part of the Alpha League at Davenport University, said students often don't recognize the steps to success. The message to them, he said, should begin with determining how to be a leader.

"What you want is to find ways to build young leaders," Ford said. "That's what you want, but sometimes we're lacking that. It's important to see and understand what path should be followed.

"You need to have good people around you. At an event like this, can see that you need good influential people near you."

 

By Steve Vedder, Courtesy of School News Network