"I'm going to college, sir!" The confidence in the young men's voices grew stronger each time they affirmed their intention.
The legendary educator told the two teens standing in the packed conference center to respond with this declarative if ever they were confronted. Fusing the force of a drill sergeant and the warmth of a loving uncle, Dr. George McKenna eyed the youths and demanded to know: "Where are you going?"
"I'm going to college, sir!"
PCC's Creveling Lounge erupted in applause as more than 200 youth and over 50 adult volunteers jumped to their feet. The 2012 Young African-American Male's Conference was off to a high-energy start.
Organized by the Metropolitan Community Action Services Corporation (an outreach of Metropolitan Baptist Church) and co-sponsored by Pasadena City College, Saturday's conference featured workshops ranging from scholastic success to safely resolving encounters with police. Speakers included Mikal Pradia of the youth-oriented entrepreneur team Mastermind Collective, filmmaker and motivational speaker Billionaire P.A. and McKenna, the former PUSD Deputy Superintendent who famously revitalized George Washington Preparatory High School in South Central Los Angeles.
Also on hand were representatives of the Pasadena and Altadena branches of the NAACP, the Black Male Forum, Alta Pasa Community Improvement Center, the Pasadena Public Library, Smart Kids, the Social Security Administration and Xerox Corporation. Hot lunch was cooked and served by the Men of First AME Church, Pasadena (MoFAME).
Event chair Albert Stephens explained that the conference theme, "Success By Choice," was designed to build confidence in the young attendees. "We want the youth to know that success is based on their own positive decisions," said Stephens.
Eddie Boyd, a 17-year-old junior at South Pasadena High School, described the day as "powerful" and "very informative." "The amount of knowledge they shared with us was pretty amazing," Boyd remarked.
The fact that men from all walks of life volunteered to facilitate the conference made an impression on 16-year-old Blair High School junior Guy Woods. "It meant a lot to see so many men reaching out to the kids like that. It makes a really big difference and shows us that people care," said Woods.
That sense of caring is why events like the Young African-American Male's Conference are vital, said PCC vice-president Dr. Robert Bell, who presented a workshop for parents who want their sons to attend college. "African-American boys face tremendous challenges and, as African-American men, we have an obligation to help them succeed," Bell stated.
Organizers are already planning a series of follow-up events to build on the concepts presented at the conference. "When you get young people to sit down and dialogue then you have a real shot at changing their lives," Stephens said.
[Cover Design by: Brother Yusef ~ All Cover Photos Credit: Cliff Mack]