Juan Williams, a political analyst, commentator and author, asked youth attending the Clemson University Men of Color National Summit on Friday to build their own narrative and not to let others define them.
Giving the luncheon keynote on the summit’s second and final day, Williams urged the high school and college students in attendance to believe in themselves and what they can achieve. He said he wanted to use the opportunity of the summit to “speak to them as a father would speak to a son, man-to-man.”
“Are you giving yourself the opportunity to believe that you can achieve vision and purpose and goals?” he asked. “That is what’s really at stake. Who do you say you are?”
The summit, attended by a capacity crowd of 2,000 high school and college students, academics, mentors and community leaders, is focused on closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic men and other demographics.
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. Clemson Chief Diversity Officer Lee Gill said planning for the 2019 summit is already underway.
Williams said he was eager to talk to the youth of today about “who you are, how you see yourself and who you think you’re going to be?”
Williams urged them to self-invest in education and building relationships, and to develop discipline, purpose, vision and goals.
He said young African-American and Hispanic males are surrounded by a country that puts a narrative into their heads of dysfunction, fear, anxiety and uncertainty. He described it as a story of failure and one in which blacks either become rappers, comedians and athletes or end up dropping out of school and marching off to jail in orange jumpsuits.
“I understand the difficulties that occur in life, but you have to take control, responsibility in the midst of chaos,” he said, citing examples of Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama and Thurgood Marshall – each of whom ignored the “tape in their head” and took a chance on pursuing their own vision.
This year’s summit is presented by the City of Greenville and Greenville County, and sponsored by BB&T, among others.