Opening the second and final day of the 2019 Clemson University Men of Color National Summit, UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera challenged the 400 high school students in attendance to seize the opportunities presented to them.
Noguera, UCLA’s Distinguished Professor of Education and Faculty Director for the Center for the Transformation of Schools, spoke of the societal challenges African-American and Hispanic men face.
The odds, he said, are stacked against students of color, who are disproportionately suspended from school and placed in special education classes. “The risks are real,” he said. “And too often the schools that have ostensibly been set up to help us are not the places we get our help. They are the places where failure begins.”
Mass incarceration in this country, he said, is “a shame and a disgrace,” and locks up black men at alarming rates.
“Who do we incarcerate? Those we fail to educate,” said Noguera, who described visiting inmates in a prison classroom. “There’s a conspiracy to keep you here,” he told them. “My question to you is, ‘Are you part of the conspiracy, too?’ Because this whole system doesn’t work if you don’t participate in it, too.”
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.
“I believe that if we can imagine new possibilities they are right there in our communities,” Noguera said. “What’s lacking in our communities is leadership. What’s lacking in our communities is creativity. What’s lacking in our communities is the means to take the talent we have, to cultivate that talent and to apply it in ways that allow us to achieve great things.”
One of six children born to parents who lacked high school educations, Noguera described growing up in Brooklyn. “Neither of my parents graduated from high school, but my parents believed in education. They managed to send all six of us to college,” he said.
“Education is still the key to our liberation. The key to our freedom,” he said. “Because it is only through education that you begin to change the odds. And only through education that we begin to ensure the next generation will have it better than the current generation.”
Noguera spoke of the need to transform how we think of education, and cited example after example of innovative schools around the country that are succeeding in reaching male students of color. America, it seems, has no trouble identifying football talent among black youth in all corners. What’s needed, he said, is to apply that same determination in finding engineers, writers and doctors.
“It’s all about priorities,” he said. “How do we shift the odds? How do we begin to develop strategies and systems that allow us to cultivate the talent early enough, intervene early?”
Noguera urged the high school students to surround themselves with family and mentors, and to learn how to apply common sense in making good decisions and navigating obstacles.
“If we don’t understand that we are in a society where we are being judged based on how we look and how we dress and how we talk we don’t understand the world we live in,” he said.Dr. Pedro Noguera speaking to audience at the Greenville Convention Center. Image credit: University Relations
“When we are equipped with the ability to navigate then we are empowered to not become a victim of our circumstances,” he said. “My challenge is to you, as you think about what’s possible, is to keep in mind that great things are within your reach.”
Looking out from the podium, Noguera said he saw a room full of future business leaders, writers, artists, engineers and honest politicians.
“I see a future that gives me reason to be optimistic,” he said in closing. “I believe in you. And because of this university, this work is about you. I hope you seize this opportunity to make sure that you can contribute to create a different future than what we know right now.”
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