Journalist Roland S. Martin opened the 2018 Clemson University Men of Color National Summit Thursday telling the high school and college students in attendance that they have the opportunity and responsibility to reshape this country.
Noting that American will be a majority-minority country by 2043 with no single demographic group in the majority, Martin said the decisions made now by those who are 20 and younger will impact not only their own trajectory in life but those of their children and grandchildren.
“Every decision you make will determine what happens tomorrow. Be a difference-maker and use your intellect and power to be a change-agent for good,” said the host and managing editor of TV One’s NewsOne Now.
Tyrus Peoples, a 19-year-old Wofford student from Columbia, said he found Martin’s address profound, and that he was inspired “hearing Mr. Martin just kind of give voice to the changing America and what is to come, and that we really are capable and able to be that force to help change it in a positive way.”
“That, by far so far, has been the most profound thing I’ve heard,” he said. “It’s inspired me to do my part to make a better America.” Peoples said he went into the two-day conference with a mind open to new ideas. “I’m here to be poured into in any way possible,” he said.
The summit, attended by a capacity crowd of 2,000 high school and college students from across the state, academics, mentors and community leaders, is focused on closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic men and other demographics. It is being held Thursday and Friday at the TD Center in Greenville.
This marks the second year of the summit, a part of Clemson’s long-term commitment as a land-grant institution to prepare a diverse mix of South Carolina students for cradle-to-career success. The high school graduation rate in South Carolina last year was 79 percent for whites, 73 percent for Hispanics, and 69 percent for African-American males.
Clemson President Jim Clements vowed that the school will do everything it can to “eliminate the achievement gap in educational attainment levels,” by putting black and Hispanic males on a path to higher education, whether that means attending college at Clemson or elsewhere.
“I believe in the life-changing transformational power of education, and that education is the key for a better life – not just for an individual but for society as a whole,” said Clements, himself a first-generation college graduate in his own family. “If we eliminate the achievement gap everyone benefits. This summit is about making a difference in the lives of these outstanding young men.”
Clemson has seen significant advances in recent years, boosting the undergraduate admission rate 25 percent for African-American men between fall 2013 and fall 2017, and 66 percent for Hispanic men. During the same period, African-American and Hispanic faculty and staff have increased 33 percent.
The school also has dedicated $3.5 million in funds for diversity initiatives and created 10 diversity scholarships.
In his opening keynote, Martin talked of the changing demographics in this country and what that means from a historical perspective. “We are living in an age of fear,” he said. “I actually phrase this as the age of white fear.”
Martin equated it to the same fear the country experienced after the Civil War during the era of Reconstruction. African-Americans and Hispanics have not come far in those 150 years.
The gap between black and Latino home ownership and that of whites is greater than what it was in 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson 50 years ago today, eight days after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“It took the blood of King to get a Fair Housing Act. Just like it took the blood of four little girls in Birmingham to get the Voting Rights Act. Like it took the blood of Jimmie Lee Jackson in 1964 in Selma to get the Civil Rights Act,” he said. “You cannot understand where we are going, the path we are on, if you don’t understand where we have been.”
Martin said that the conference isn’t just about those in the room, many of whom will be in their mid-40s when 2043 arrives and should be aspiring to be leaders in industry, banking, politics, law and education by then.
“You will have the responsibility of defining America for the folks born between now and 2028,” he told them. “So when they are 15 and 18 and 20 years old, there has to be an America that is different in 2043 when they become adults than the America you have had to face when you became an adult,” he said.
“That now changes how you think about this conference and every decision you make from this day forward,” he told them. “Because every decision you make from this point forward will determine the path you will be on personally but also the future of your family.”
This Men of Color summit is “not about the people in the room, it’s literally about the folks who have not even been born yet,” he said.
“We can simply cannot afford to failure to continue when you talk about black folks and brown folks in America because how shameful will it be when you get to 2043 and you have numerical numbers, you have numerical advantage, but then you still are living essentially in Apartheid,” Martin said.
Earlier, speaker, author and trainer Brian Heat fired up the crowd by leading them in chants of “I am unstoppable” and “my time is now.”
“Too often we’re waiting for something to occur,” Heat told them. “This is a two-day conference. You keep waiting for something and the conference will be over.” Heat urged them to “walk around like an empty cup. What that means is you are an empty cup everyone wants to pour into. Impact and be impacted.”
“You know what makes a great conference?” Heat asked. “Some conferences are informational, this conference better be transformational.”
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