MSA Summit: Young Men of Color Challenged to Make Meaningful Changes

With a dynamic line-up that included a keynote address, workshops, panels and hosted discussions aimed at building their self-worth and empowering them to strive toward success through education, nearly 800 middle- and high-school Latino and African American male students from local Los Angeles and Long Beach Unified school districts, and from California State University, Dominguez Hills were brought together for the Fourth Annual Male Success Alliance (MSA) Summit, a day-long event hosted on May 9 in the Loker Student Union at the university in partnership with Inglewood-based nonprofit Social Justice Learning Institute (SJLI).

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Kicking off the event was an inspirational and edgy keynote address from Jeff Duncan-Andrade, associate professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State, respected high school teacher, and founder of the Steps to College program he established in East Oakland aimed at transforming at-risk youth into promising college students.

As part of his impassioned presentation, Andrade identified the late rap artist Tupac Shakur as a major influence on his intellectual perspective; referenced author, activist, philosopher and scholar Cornel West; and paid homage to abolitionist Harriett Tubman, an escaped slave who led others to freedom through the “underground railroad,” despite physical limitations.

“Dr. Andrade was amazing. He took the kids back into history, which was really refreshing, and he was able to connect with them on a deeper level,” said JuVan Langford, the president of Mentors Making Major Moves, a non-profit organization aimed at providing youth in Los Angeles exposure to educational and cultural experiences. “It was an honor to hear him speak, to see him to stand there with a powerful posture and speak to the future.”

Challenging the students to reach into their deep legacy of leaders and scholarly thinkers to help them understand that they can achieve beyond what is often thought or asked of them, Duncan-Andrade said, “They give you a pat on the back for bringing a backpack, a book, and a pencil [to school]. No real expectation that you do anything, except follow a set of rules. But that’s not where you come from.”

MSA members, such as Geancarlo Salazar, a freshman majoring in psychology and minoring in criminal justice, are reaching higher. Through the MSA program, Salazar serves as a mentor to students at Bethune Middle School in Los Angeles.

“I wanted to be a role model, a mentor to these young warrior-scholars, as they say,” Salazar said. “We try to promote young men of color, particularly African American and Latino, to become a higher percentage of the graduates from the Cal State Universities.”

University Interim President Willie J. Hagan told the assembly of young men that he wouldn’t be in the position he is in today if not for the people, particularly a high school adviser, who supported his academic pursuits.

MSA members“You don’t have to do it alone. … You have MSA mentors, staff, teachers, and advisers here. … These folks have been down the path that you’re traveling … their experience can really be of help,” he said.

In line with the event’s theme, “Blueprints and Dreams: Building Excellence Among Men and Boys of Color,” senior Africana studies major, McNair scholar, 2013 Presidential Outstanding Student Award recipient, and MSA member David C. Turner, III, prepared a group of students he mentors as a volunteer through the SJLI program at Augustus F. Hawkings High School in south L.A. for their presentation “Black Males in the Media and Sports.”

“We can help brothers of my color, and other people’s color in general,” 11th-grader Jua Lewis, who presented at a university for the first time, said of his participation at the summit. “I also learned information that I didn’t know from the stuff we presented. It was new … to me. We are all learning together as a group.”

Referring to the persistent disparity in academic achievement, the increased likelihood of being unemployed or incarcerated, and the higher rate of death due to violence—for black males compared to their white counterparts, William Franklin, associate vice president Student Success Services and MSA coordinator told the summit attendees, “We are tired of hearing of the statistics that are out there about you.”

Reassuring them that through education they aren’t and don’t have to be those statistics, he added, “By nature you’re awesome, but there’s a design phase into getting you excellent.”

The Male Success Alliance is an ongoing university initiative that provides mentorship, guidance, support services, resources, and builds a community for academic success among male students of color at CSU Dominguez Hills. Once connected through the MSA, members keep each other accountable for developing good study habits, going to class, getting good grades, and most importantly, finishing school. Paying it forward, these students also serve as mentors to local high school and middle school students.

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