Saturday, April 18, 2015

A photo-review the Language Arts & Leadership Conference (Day 3)

On April 15, for the third day of our Language Arts and Leadership Conference, we hosted discussions with collegiate black men about academic pursuits, professionalism, and confronting challenges at the university. We concluded the day with a question and answer session featuring Brian Johnson, president of Tuskegee University.

Graduate student Jeremiah Carter and President Brian Johnson

President Johnson speaks with students

A photo-review the Language Arts & Leadership Conference (Day 2)

On April 14, for the second day of our Language Arts and Leadership Conference, we hosted high school black men from Construction Careers Center Charter High School, Edwardsville High School, Hazelwood Central High School, Mary Institute & Saint Louis Country Day School (MICDS), SIUE/East St. Louis Charter School, and Trinity Catholic High School.

Students participate in "visualizing vocabulary" workshop

Students participate in writing activity

Friday, April 17, 2015

Presentation to the Board of Trustees

[The following is the text of my presentation during the "public comments" portion of the SIU Board of Trustees meeting, April 17. We were required to keep our comments below 5 minutes.]

I am an associate professor of English here at SIUE.

I am proposing a special academic program entitled "the Leadership Forum" for undergraduates at SIUE. I am appealing to the Board of Trustees for assistance to fund the program. The program seeks to alleviate the systematic exclusion of African American students from “honors” programs and special academic activities and support at SIUE.

As a professor at SIUE for more than a decade now, I have observed the exclusion and absence of African Americans students from academic programming. University officials have acknowledged that African American students have largely been omitted from honors programs and prestigious scholarships here, and some of those officials even admit that it is a problem.

Yet, nothing changes; the exclusion continues to persist. What is worse, the exclusion has persisted even as the numbers and percentage of African American students have now reached the highest number in the university’s history.

A photo-review the Language Arts & Leadership Conference (Day 1)

On April 13, for the first day of our Language Arts and Leadership Conference, we hosted students from Venice Elementary School (K - 8). My colleagues Tisha Brooks and Elizabeth Cali, and my graduate assistant Jeremiah Carter coordinated arts activities for the 35 students who attended.

Professor Tisha Brooks assists student with arts activity

Students share artwork with Professor Cali

Mike Jones extends a larger vision

Mike Jones facilitates question and answer session

During our Language Arts and Leadership Conference, I repeatedly noted that my colleague Mike Jones "got us here" and that "he made this happen." Of course, we in fact had many contributors and vital assistance, but I do remember that several months ago, Jones was the one that came in with the crucial vision.

"Rambsy, let's do a conference for young black men," he said at the "meeting" before there was even an official meeting or planning committee for this conference. In his work as an advisor, Jones has been on the ground level working with a range of guys here SIUE, and he realized that we needed to do something extra that would assist young brothers navigating the university.

So Jones got us started. Since I've been working with a couple of secondary schools in the area, I suggested that we also create some workshops for high school students as well. We talked and began sketching out plans.  

Mike Jones & President Brian Johnson of Tuskegee University at the close of the conference

I received a reminder that our guy Jones has been integral to this kind of organizing prior to his arrival at SIUE. A week before our event, I attended a symposium devoted to black men at St. Louis University. At one point in the program, one of the speakers acknowledged that none other than Mike Jones had been one of the initial organizers who prompted the formation of a support network and then conference for collegiate black men at SLU.
Our recent conference for young black men at SIUE was in part a continuation of Mike Jones's long-running efforts and a larger vision.

Language Arts and Leadership Conference  

A gathering of young scholars

At the close of sessions for our Language Arts and Leadership Conference on April 14, the high school students gathered for a group photograph. And then, on April 15, at the close of the question and answer session with Brian Johnson, president of Tuskegee University, our undergraduates gathered for a group photograph.

Language Arts and Leadership Conference  

A Free Book Fair

No doubt about it: one of the stand-out sessions for the high school students at our "Language Arts and Leadership" Conference was the free book fair. The guys enjoyed looking through the materials and then selecting books to take with them. 

I devised the plan for a book fair over a year ago, long before I knew we would have this language arts conference. During my latter years of high school and especially during my college days, I began establishing a strong connection to used bookstores. The first, major growth phase of my personal library took place during the spring of 1998 when I spent a semester living in New York City.

I won't bore you with the details of how I developed my collection over the last 15 or so years, but I will say that I have sought out ways to creatively share books and even aspects of my own collection with students and friends. Our conference presented me with a good opportunity to pass books along to others.

In addition to gathering more than 100 books from my collection to give away, I also received donations from my colleagues in the department of English. As a result, we had a really wide and diverse selection of books for the students to choose from during the session.  

Language Arts and Leadership Conference  

A wonderful book moment image that got away

I've been taking photographs for years now, and I'm inevitably thinking about notable moments that I somehow did not manage to capture with my camera. One of those moments came during our Language Arts and Leadership Conference.

At noon, I arrived at the room where we would have lunch and also where our book festival would take place. A long line had formed outside the room. People were waiting, I assumed, to pick up sandwiches and something to drink.

However, when I moved forward to get inside, I realized that the young men had barely noticed the table of food. They were instead fully focused on the tables of books. We had not yet informed the guys that the books were free. They were excitedly perusing and discussing the materials.   

As much as I enjoyed witnessing their enthusiasm concerning the books, I had to instruct them to grab something to eat, so that more people could enter the room.   

If I had my camera on me at the time, I would now have the chance to present you with a photograph of this long line of young black men waiting to look at books. You'll have to take my word that it was a wonderful scene. 

Language Arts and Leadership Conference