UT Toledo EXCEL Hosts conference ”Beyond the Classroom” for aspiring minority youth

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BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff writer

 

A few hundred area teens, pre-teens, and some parents, converged on the University of Toledo on Saturday, January 20, for the 32nd Annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth, hosted by the university’s Office of Excellence, known as the EXCEL Program. The theme of the conference was, “Beyond the Classroom: The Rewards of Self-Directed Learning,” focused on the benefits of educating self-outside the traditional classroom setting.

The goal of the conference, according to the program, given to attendees, is to encourage students to think of learning as something that is a lifelong process.

 

The Mayor of Toledo addresses the conference.
The Mayor of Toledo addresses the conference.

The conference had a multitude of speakers addressing the young people in attendance, including former graduates of the EXCEL Program, Paula Hicks-Hudson, Mayor of Toledo, Dr. Romulus Durant, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, Kevin Powell, nationally acclaimed journalist, and David Young, director of the Office of Excellence.

 

Kevin Powell brings Brandon Lawson, 10, on stage to share his thoughts about the conference. “I thought it would be very boring, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Brandon said.
Kevin Powell brings Brandon Lawson, 10, on stage to share his thoughts about the conference. “I thought it would be very boring, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Brandon said.

“We started this conference 32 years ago to inspire young people to pursue higher education,” Mr. Young  told The Toledo Journal.

 

David Young, director of the Office of Excellence, honored former graduates of the program, including Rhonny Brady.
David Young, director of the Office of Excellence, honored former graduates of the program, including Rhonny Brady.

Dr. Durant, who is a graduate of Toledo Public Schools, and the University of Toledo, addressed his young audience by saying, “I had a LeBron James in my home while growing up,” referencing his father and how his father pushed him to strive for more in life. “You too have a LeBron James in your home. People who care about you, and help you plan out your future are your LeBron James.”

 

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When it was time for Mr. Powell to speak, he referenced how Dr. Durant’s, brief talk, was motivating to him, and how fortunate Toledo was to have Dr. Durant.

Mr. Powell told attendees that, in order to continue, to keep their attention, like Dr. Durant, that during his talk, he would make it very interactive as possible; at times stopping, and asking the youth for feedback, or to ask a question.

“If you were to ask me, who some of the speakers were that talked to me, and my classmates, while growing up, I wouldn’t be able to tell you; because they spoke at us, and didn’t include us in the learning process,” he said. “In other words, most speakers are boring; would you agree,” Mr. Powell asked the students, and they laughed and replied by saying, “Yes.”

He continued by relating his difficult upbringing, to those present. “There’s no shame in growing up poor. There’s no shame in growing up without a father. There’s no shame in growing up on welfare, or eating government cheese,” Mr. Powell stressed.

Building off of Dr. Durant’s talk, about having a LeBron James in your home, Mr. Powell said his LeBron James was his mother. With only an eighth grade education, he  said that, she helped him plan his future, and continuously encouraged him to strive for higher things in life.

Periodically throughout his talk, he would either ask if there were questions, or stimulated the students in engaging him in talk; and the youth happily obliged.

He helped reinforced the theme of the conference by telling them that memorizing information isn’t an education, and they needed to learn, incorporate, and love what they’re doing.

 

Malachi Norris, 12, one of the many young people that accepted Mr. Powell’s invitation to take part in the discussion, said, “Education is when you’re open for growth, being able to master what you learned, and using it later on in life.”
Malachi Norris, 12, one of the many young people that accepted Mr. Powell’s invitation to take part in the discussion, said, “Education is when you’re open for growth, being able to master what you learned, and using it later on in life.”

Mr. Powell then asked, “What’s education?” Instantly, Malachi Norrils, 12, approached one of the microphones stationed throughout the area. His answer was perhaps the most profound of the many people that answered the question.

“Education is when you’re open for growth, being able to master what you learned, and use it later on in life,” Malachi said. His answer caused  Mr. Powell to ask him to repeat it, so everyone could hear it again.

Mr. Powell closed out by challenging the students to ask themselves, “’Where do I see myself one year, three years, five years, 10 and 25 years from now.’ Then make a plan on how you’re going to get there,” he said.

 

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“This was an excellent conference,” Kimiko Peacock told The Toledo Journal. “I really like how Mr. Powell engaged the students.”

Ms. Peacock brought her son and younger cousin to the event in hopes of inspiring them to want more out of life, and to get involved with the EXCEL Program.

“It was an honor being here, and hearing Mr. Powell’s talk,” said Elijah Pickett, 18. He also acknowledged that Mr. Powell was correct about most speakers being boring because they don’t include the students in the learning process.

“Today was very successful,” Mr. Young said. “I think the young people learned a lot from all the speakers. And Mr. Powell did an excellent job engaging them.”

 

Several hundred students from public, Catholic, and charter schools participated in the annual conference.
Several hundred students from public, Catholic, and charter schools participated in the annual conference.

After Mr. Powell’s talk, there was a session held for just students that would go into more detail of what was spoken about during the general assembly and a session for the adults that would aid them in dealing with some of the challenges that young people face; including cyber bullying.

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