LOS ANGELES — More than 700 people attended the 9th Annual African American Male Educational Network and Development (A2MEND) Summit that highlighted social justice and equity-minded approaches to student success for African-American men in community colleges. Presidents, administrators, faculty and students gathered to discuss strategies that directly impact the success of Black male students. This year’s theme, “Moving the Needle: From Injustice to Equity,” aims to combat the negative perceptions of Black males in higher education.
The A2MEND organization began with a group of six young California community college administrators (all less than 35 years old at the time) who used their expertise and influence to foster institutional change within the community college system. Providing an academic and professional environment for Black male students, faculty and staff has been a part of the ongoing objectives of the organization, as well as offering support for community college students through college fairs, workshops and scholarships. Since 2006, A2MEND has awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to deserving students. This year, 38 students received $21,000 in scholarships for their academic achievement. Students were also able to connect with recruiters from 14 historically Black colleges and universities at the Black College Fair.
Recent graduate Travell Williams of Morgan State University was on hand to provide admission and financial aid information to prospective transfer students. “Our goal is to encourage students from the West Coast to consider an HBCU and Morgan State welcomes the opportunity to be the next step in higher education for students from California,” said Williams.
Stepping in the Right Direction Program Director and host of the A2MEND Black College Fair Nicole Ford let students know that they, too, can attend an HBCU like she did. A graduate of Bethune-Cookman University, Ford recalls her time as a California community college transfer student. “Bethune-Cookman is a transfer agreement school and as a California community college transfer student myself, I understand where you are coming from. After years in corporate America, I wanted to come back to California to host HBCU college tours and I now host 10 per year, averaging 100 students on each tour,” said Ford. Last year, a transfer agreement guarantee between the California Community College system and several HBCU institutions was launched to increase opportunities for baccalaureate degree attainment for students from California.
Organizers of the summit impressed upon students the need to be their own advocate and debunk mainstream media-perpetuated myths that more Black males are in jail than in college. Speakers encouraged students to make the most of all the information and networking opportunities provided at the summit. “We should have multitiered movements that create action. Let’s move forward. Protest is a vehicle to create awareness but it is not the end-all,” said A2MEND Past-President Walter Jones.
A2MEND Parliamentarian Terence Elliot voiced to students that they should work to “improve self, help others and build community.” Students should not be discouraged when they have been challenged and failed. “Character in a person is determined by how you get back up after you have fallen and how you show resiliency,” said Elliot.
The keynote speaker was executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities Ivory Toldson, who reflected on his own experience as an HBCU scholar and advised students to not let others tell their stories about them. “Perceptions of people of color tend to come from others that do not look like us and you can’t reduce our experience to a soundbite,” said Toldson. “The biggest misconception of the Black male student is that they enter higher education with problems that cannot be resolved and their early learning challenges and deficits contribute to their inability to soar to their highest heights.”
With the presidential election approaching, Toldson was candid about the significance of HBCUs in higher education regardless of who might be the next leader of the country. “HBCUs will always serve a function no matter who is in office. They have survived more than 150 years of operation through bipartisan leadership and will continue to be major players in education. We may have a different relationship with the federal government but we will continue to thrive.”
For more information on the A2MEND organization visit a2mend.org.