2019 Clemson Men of Color National Summit: Keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada
In his remarks at the Clemson University Men of Color National Summit on Thursday, the founder of Harlem Children’s Zone told the 400 high school students in attendance to stand up for what they believe in, never give up and prepare for the moment that could shape their lives.
“I don’t care what obstacles you have had to face in your life – if you feel neglected, ignored. I’m telling you that you cannot give up,” Geoffrey Canada told them. “You have no idea what God has in store for you.”
Prior to Canada’s keynote address, Clemson President Jim Clements introduced the 400 members of the Tiger Alliance and the 200 in Clemson’s Emerging Scholars program, including those who are graduating this year from high schools around the state.
“I know we need to work harder to close the achievement gap that exists in this county,” Clements said, describing the work the school is doing to ensure all students excel. “I truly believe in the life-changing, transformational powers of education, and that education is a path to a better life not just for an individual but for society as a whole.”
Clemson University Board Chairman Smyth McKissick followed by encouraging the youth to push through challenges that might seem insurmountable. During the conference, he said, they should introduce themselves to speakers whose message resonates, learn about career opportunities and lift up and support each other.
“Challenge yourself to think differently about how you approach your path to college and set goals,” he said. “You’re now part of the Clemson family. Your success is our success.”
The two-day conference at the Greenville Convention Center is dedicated to closing the achievement gap for African-American and Hispanic males.
This year mark’s the third year of bringing together 2,000 experts, educators, thought leaders and students from across the nation to share ideas, discuss what works and doesn’t work and to consider what hasn’t yet been tried.
In an exuberant luncheon keynote greeted by laughter and applause, Canada said the musician Prince anonymously gave $1 million to his school in Harlem but never wanted his name mentioned. “He was doing it because he thought it was the right thing to do,” Canada said. “You’ve got to know the right thing to do and have the courage to do that thing.”
He described abolitionist Harriet Tubman as his role model for her courage and commitment to help free slaves after she, herself, had escaped. “Find yourself a role model that’s a real model,” he said. “When times get tough, it’s the role model you look to for guidance and advice and the strength to carry on.”
And he told the students they are neither as smart as they think nor as dumb as they feel.
“You’re not as smart as you think you are. And don’t be intimidated by that. There’s just some people who are smarter than the rest of us and that’s ok. There’s no reason to retreat into our shell,” he said. He encouraged them to never fear asking questions.
“You can be filled with doubt and fear, and it can make you doubt your own intellect. And you can have a class or a course or even a day that makes you feel like, ‘I can’t do this stuff. All these kids are more talented.’ Don’t listen to it,” he said. “You ask the questions. You keep believing in yourself. If you don’t understand, it’s your teacher’s job to help you understand. Don’t just sit there and be quiet and fail a class.”
Some go through life like they are sleepwalking, unaware that what they are doing might prepare them for greatness later.
“You’re being prepared for something. In life, everybody gets their moment, and you might only get one moment, and you better prepare right now for that moment because when it comes and you’re not ready you may miss it forever,” he said.
In closing, Canada told the youth to that “nothing in this life happens without courageous people standing up and doing the right thing. And part of what you’re going through right now as young men is not just getting a decent education and getting into college but to figure out what do you stand for.”
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