It’s easy to find literature, statistics, and media headlines highlighting the academic underperformance of our nation’s students, especially students of color (commonly mislabeled “at-risk”). While these statistics do point to a serious problem, what’s often not so visible are the stories of students of color who are excelling, and the people and organizations that are encouraging and supporting their achievement. The United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation’s largest minority education program, was founded in 1944 to help students of color go to and through college. UNCF has raised more than $3.6 billion to help address the disparitiesin education resources for students. They have helped more than 400,000 students receive college degrees at UNCF-member institutions and with UNCF scholarships (find out more: http://www.uncf.org/).
Saturday, January 25th, my son, one of his best friends, and I attended one of UNCF’s newest endeavors – Empower Me Tour at Clark Atlanta University. The event was free and open to all. As mentioned on its website, the Empower Me Tour was “created to empower a movement among young people, motivating them toward academic excellence, personal responsibility and fiscal health through relevant program content and celebrity engagement.” The energy in the Bishop Cornelius L. student center was electric! The event was kicked off by members of Clark Atlanta’s drum-line, dance team, and royal court. The building was packed with high school students (even a few middle school students), college students, and parents; all eager to learn more about college and career preparation. Workshops included:
- Planning and Saving for College
- What’s the Right Fit (choosing a major)
- The Power of Internships and Mentors
- Building Your Personal Brand
- Success through Scholarships
- Girl Talk: Imagine a Future (all women)
- Tied To Greatness (all men)
These are just some of the workshops that were offered. They all provided valuable information on various aspects of college and career planning.
Navigating toward college can be quite a stressful venture; however, the more knowledge and time you give yourself to plan, the less intimidating this journey becomes. As a single-parent of a 9th grader, the financial aspect of college planning is very important to me, but just as important is having my son make the connection between the academic decisions he makes now and the impact it will have on his opportunity for college (or whatever his post-high school plans are) and beyond. Getting him to and through college is a shared responsibility, and the Empower Me Tour helped him better sense of that, more than what my nagging could.
I’ll let him share his experience:
“The EMT was a very fun experience for me. I enjoyed the ‘You Are a CEO: You Run the Business of You’ workshop the most. It taught me important components of being a CEO, which, someday I plan to pursue. Also, I learned some common fears of why people drop their dreams. Knowing these common fears, I can start early and create a plan to avoid them. Another very important factor of becoming a CEO I learned is to focus, set goals, and plan my direction. I appreciate all the EMT had to offer.”
I made sure not to force my son to attend workshops I thought he could benefit from, rather I gave him the freedom to make his own choice and attend the workshops he was most interested in. In doing so he chartered his own course and the information he gathered was much more valuable to him. While all the workshops I attended provided great information, the segment that resonated with me the most was when Clark sophomore, Amber Davis, a graduate of Atlanta Public Schools and Gates Millennium scholar (that’s 10 years of scholarship money folks!) took the stage. Her stature was small, but her presence was magnifying. She delivered a powerful message detailing her progression toward college. In a nutshell, her advice “If you want it, go get it!”
Overall, the Empower me Tour was a wonderful experience and a powerful tool to help young people get to and through college. With the majority of media and research being focused on the negative aspects of students of color academic performance, it’s important that we “pan out” our focus and recognize the students who are achieving. UNCF’s Empower Me Tour was a great opportunity to help young people and their families know that “A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste” and that college is accessible…start early.
Nicole Corley & son, Jalen Corley