David J. Johns wrapped up Clemson University’s inaugural Men of Color National Summit with an appeal for adults and young African American and Hispanic men to uphold their ends of the bargain in closing the achievement gap.
Johns, former executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, asked the adults in the room, “are we individually and collectively worthy of our children? Will we do what’s required of us?”
He emphasized the importance of understanding the challenges of youth today and not to think of in terms of what adults went through at that age or how adults might respond if put in those shoes.
“As adults we need to do a better job listening to them. So we know how to show up in love,” he said.
As executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, Johns worked to identify evidence-based best practices to improve African American student achievement from cradle to career. The initiative worked across federal agencies and with partners and communities nationwide to produce a more effective continuum of education programs for African American students, according to the Education Department.
Asking the adults in the ballroom of the TD Center to stand, Johns called on them to support the social and emotional development of young men of color by understanding the emotional and physical toll that youth pay in order to account for the cost of resilience and grit they are called to demonstrate. He said adults need to support their brotherhood, fidelity and community by surrounding them with a village they can turn to for help when they need it, and when they don’t know they need it.
Adults need to “tell the whole truth all the time” and can’t simply say that things will always work out, Johns said. They need the young men to understand that things sometimes don’t work out and when that happens someone will be there for them. Let them know they are not alone, he urged.
In turn, Johns said he asked three things of the high school students in the room.
Understand you are each obligated to go to college and graduate in order to pay back the sacrifices made by the people who have ensured you’re here, he said. You must pursue your passion “as if it’s the only thing you’re supposed to do.” And you must take care of yourself and one another.
“I’m asking all of us, as we continue to do this work, to think about what’s required so we can gather here 10 years from now and not have a version of this conversation,” Johns said in closing. “Are we willing to do the tough work required to meet the needs of all of our babies to ensure they can all show up in ways that allow them to transform communities, improve countries and to otherwise ensure they’re well off, happy, safe and healthy?”
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