frederica-wilson_web.jpgThe north campus of Miami Dade College was the site of a recent forum focused on the plight of what one speaker referred to as “an endangered species.”

Convening the first of what is proposed as an annual, two-day event, the college presented a panel of black male professionals to an audience full of adolescent males, about half of them African-American youth.

The panel addressed a variety of issues, including abstaining from drugs and sex, the importance of exercising personal responsibility and discipline, civic responsibility and volunteering, and the difference between snitching and being a true friend.

State Sen. Frederica Wilson paid a brief visit to the African-American Male Summit, held in the college’s Lehman Theater, imploring the youth to use their new president as a role model.

“Anything you want to be, all you have to do is put your mind to it,” said Wilson, who is the creator of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program that pairs black youth with professional mentors; and was the force behind creating the state’s Council on the Status of Black Men and Boys.

Wilson said she is working with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Audrey Edmonson to implement a local version of the council.

Jose A. Vicente, president of the college’s north campus, said MDC is committed to helping youth to see college as a part of their future.

“Many of us, including yours truly, have come from very humble beginnings.  Perhaps we did not see the connection of completion of high school and going to college.  Certainly, anything we can do to start planting the seeds as early as possible, it is our responsibility.”

According to Vicente, black and Hispanic people each comprise 44 percent of the north campus’ student body, the most diverse campus in the MDC’s eight-location system.

When questioned about whether the name of the summit fit the audience composition, Vicente said the name was appropriate because, “In reality, the figures are more significant in the black students than in the Hispanic students. But still…every student is important and certainly we need to do something about the African-American males.”

Sandra Martinez, director of advisement at the north campus, served as the event’s moderator, striking a universal cord in her statements about the event’s purpose.

Despite the fact that the forum is called the African-American Male Summit, she said, “We believe that this is not necessarily a conversation that is limited. All of us, whether you’re black, white, male or female will benefit tremendously from this important conversation and this work that begins today.”

Martinez told the youth that MDC plans to develop a think tank that will “build programs, partnerships and goals to help you recognize what your goals are.”

Preston Allen, an MDC assistant professor and novelist, encouraged the group to pursue higher education, not simply for the sake of getting an education,  but also to make contacts.

“Get to know your professors, especially if that professor is doing something that you want to do in life. I had friends who were engineers and they hung out with engineering professors. If these are people who are doing what it is you want to do, find out from them how they did it,” said Allen, who was also joined on the panel by his son, Quinn, a local high school student.

Joseph McNair, an MDC associate professor who is also a former drug addict and alcoholic, spoke candidly to the youth about drugs and sex.
In the small group that he led, McNair posed pointed questions to the boys about the two subjects. 

The boys’ responses to McNair’s question regarding how to remain sober included: “Not drinking,”  “Not listening to peer pressure,”  “Staying out of a criminal state of mind,” and “Thinking positively.”

To his question regarding whether the youth should be engaging in sex, the group fell quiet.   Finally, one young person responded, “No, because you can get a baby.”

Keith Butler, special assistant to Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, told the young men that their lives should amount to more than “A picture on a T-shirt,” referring to the popular T-shirts with photos memorializing young people who die –  often violently – at the hands of their peers.

“You either devalue your community or you add value to your community,” Butler said as he spoke about the importance of civic responsibility.   

MDC Associate Professor John Frederick said the most important issue for the youth centers on how they feel about themselves. 

“When do we begin to love ourselves?” Frederick asked. “We must take care of ourselves…We have to use language that says, ‘I am a good person. I am a beautiful creation of God. I am a gift of the universe,’ and do not allow anyone else to tell you otherwise.”

Photo: State Sen. Frederica Wilson