Pasco-Hernando State College (PHSC) is leveraging its community connections to foster meaningful discussion on matters related to social justice and racial equity.
As part of ongoing Black History Month programming, the local college organized a virtual summit titled, “Equity and Advancement of Minority Males in America.”
The Zoom event on Feb. 1 included breakout sessions with educators and professionals on topics such as leadership and mentoring; politics, policing and civic responsibility; life skills; and, mental health and spirituality. The summit’s keynote speaker was Dr. John Montgomery, Humana’s vice president and medical officer for its Florida commercial markets.
The daylong summit kicked off with a 45-minute panel discussion made up mostly of college students, and moderated by Emery Ailes, an adjunct humanities instructor and LIFE coordinator at PHSC.
Boosting graduation rates
The diverse panel first pondered ways to improve graduation, success and retention rates for Black and other minority students at colleges and universities.
Dorian Howell is president of PHSC’s Student Government Association.
The student leader believes it’s important to identify at-risk minority students early on in their college experience, then pair them with a mentor or counselor to closely monitor and support them throughout their college years.
He pointed out some students immediately get discouraged with college when they have trouble navigating digital access codes and connecting to online course materials.
Others, meanwhile, are unaware of the myriad financial aid and scholarship resources readily available to them, he said, which could keep vulnerable students in school.
“It’s really about identifying the people at-risk and educating them on the tools we have, step by step,” Howell said.
He also emphasized the importance of getting involved in student-led clubs or extracurricular organizations. Those, he said, can foster academic success and accountability among one another.
“I found that my friends, a lot of them didn’t feel supported, but when they joined a club they connected with the community in the college, it helped them stay with it, it motivated them to stay with the courses,” he said.
St. Petersburg College (SPC) student Ericka Jones expressed similar sentiments regarding ways to improve minority student success rates.
Jones — set to earn a business degree in December — correlated her academic achievements to involvement with SPC’s Badeya Club, a Black student organization that aims to create a sense of community and respect among all students.
“If it wasn’t for them, I would’ve given up. I’m telling you, it’s so important to have a support system,” said Jones, who now serves as political action director of the college organization.
Jones brought a unique perspective to the panel — she’s raising a Black son while trying to earn a college degree.
“I can’t teach him all the things that a Black male is able to teach him. I believe in what this (summit) stands for. We need to uplift our Black males and our family in this society,” Jones said.
Dana Hind is a representative from Black Coalition of Hernando County.
She said more robust and accessible mentorship opportunities are needed before minority students get to college — perhaps throughout their high school years.
“To actually get kids driven into getting into college, we have to start earlier, and it’s been a challenge for me as a parent,” Hinds said. “You should have someone there to advocate for you as you’re going through, to make sure you get those scholarships, to make sure you get all those opportunities.”
Countering negative stereotypes
The conversation then turned to negative media portrayals of young and adult Black males and other minorities — and seeking ways to reverse promulgated views.
Panelist Demarvion Brown said such meaningful change must first come through Black families fostering nurturing childhood environments and identifying positive role models.
“It starts at home,” said Brown, a freshman men’s basketball player at PHSC.
“Some people have good households, and some people don’t, but to change that, to turn that into a positive way is to stand out in front of everybody and become a different person and become a role model. Most people don’t believe in role models, but I think we need more of them to make the world a better place.”
Xavier Edwards is a student at Eastern Florida State College, in Cocoa.
He said one way to eradicate the media’s negative portrayals of Black men is to create new channels of communication.
Edwards, who is studying digital television and media production, suggested Black leaders and entrepreneurs venture to create their own newsletters, new stations, social media sites and YouTube pages, focusing on “pushing out more positive images of Black people graduating, minorities getting scholarships…
“It’s about trying to get people who have the power to change the narrative of the image of Black and brown men. It might take us creating our own news (outlets),” he said.
Howell concurred with the idea of developing alternative news outlets highlighting inspiring Black figures and experiences, such as former President Barack Obama, Dr. Ben Carson and PHSC President Timothy Beard.
“We can use those as role models of changing the image to a positive image of, ‘OK, there’s doctors, there’s presidents that are all role models,’” Howell said.
The student body leader also called for boycotting news and entertainment outlets that portray Black males and others in a negative light.
“If the media is perpetuating this negative image, hit ‘em where it hurts, stop supporting the media, don’t share the media that’s showing this negative image,” he said.
Resolving economic inequalities
The panel also broached the nation’s inequities in wealth.
Various reports point out that Black-owned businesses and individuals historically have been at the mercy of loan denials and subprime lending practices, Howell said.
He referenced one study that a Black-owned businesses get about 10 cents for every dollar that a white-owned business receives from a bank, a situation he characterized as “sickening.”
Howell called for a more equitable lending system and he encouraged individuals to simply inspire people to support Black-owned businesses.
“For us as individuals, we see a minority-owned business or restaurant or whatever, support it with our dollars, buy from them,” Howell said.
It also would be helpful to have more financial workshops led by Black business leaders, to encourage and educate others on stocks, saving, and general money management tips, Howell said.
Edwards also called for increasing efforts to educate minorities about how to acquire loans and start their own businesses.
Giving Black employees opportunities for advancement in their professions also can have broader implications, Edwards noted.
As more Black individuals earn senior management positions, they can slowly amass generational wealth for their families and communities, he said.
“It’s not that it can’t change, it’s just going to take some work, but it just starts with more minority people being able to get to those high positions,” he said.
Published February 17, 2021