Leadership summit at Mesa encourages African American and Latino male students to attend college

Candyce Fischer

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Last Friday, approximately 400 male African American and Latino middle school and high school students filled the gym at Mesa College. Young men selected from 15 schools based on their positive behavior gathered to hear well-known keynote speakers and special performances encouraging them to go to college.

The second annual African American/ Latino Male Leadership Summit is the only program of its kind in California.

“There are others that either deal just with Latino or African Americans, but to actually bring the two communities together was really important to us,” said one of the organizers and Mesa counselor Star Rivera-Lacey.

According to Chancellor Constance M. Carroll, community colleges and universities are now almost 60 percent female in their enrollment.

“This is largely because some male students have dropped out, particularly in these two groups,” said Carroll, who also gave a short speech at the summit. “So what Mesa College is doing, and what we are doing in the district, is really focusing on these young men, to give them support, encouragement and whatever assistance we can so that they will come to college and be successful, otherwise they will not be.”

Counselor Ron Zappala from Kearny High Educational Complex selected several students to come with him to the conference. According to Zappala, the summit had a positive impact on the students who came with him last year.

“It was very motivational,” said Zappala. “The kids left feeling like they were selected, they were special; that they had some people in the community who are concerned about them, some people who they could turn to as they go to college.”

After speeches by published writers and popular motivational speakers Shirley Weber and Macedonio Arteaga and performances by Lumumba-Zapata and Collective Purpose, the summit switched gears to roundtable discussions between the students and mentors. And the end of the event, every student received a certificate for attending.

17-year-old Walter Ortega from Mark Twain High School said that while he has the drive to go to college, none of his friends do. According to Ortega, coming to the summit would help them, but nothing would be as convincing as seeing their peers do it.

“From my point of view, what people want is money,” said Ortega. “They want cars and houses. If they stay in the ghetto, they aren’t going to get it. If they see me in nice cars, having a nice house, I think that will make them want to go to college.”

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