Clemson University’s fifth annual Men of Color National Summit held April 21-22, 2022, attracted its largest crowd in the history of the event. The Summit’s mission is to close the opportunity gap for African American and Hispanic males and help illuminate pathways to higher education. More than 2,200 high school and college students, business professionals, educators and administrators, government officials and community leaders from 26 states attended.
“I get excited seeing all of these young men in one place, captive, listening and learning, and focused on their future,” said Ted Colbert III, president and CEO of Defense, Space and Security at The Boeing Company, during his opening remarks. “You are all the future, and we are here to support you.”
Since its inception in 2018, the Summit has steadily grown in scale and reach to become a premier event focused on higher education. Young men from around the country spend two days being immersed in themes such as career and professional development, entrepreneurship, masculinity and personal identity, graduation achievement and community engagement. They hear inspirational speeches from astronauts, members of Congress and chief executive officers from major corporations, among others.
“I’m excited to be part of this meeting and experience all the great talent in the room with one goal: learning how to thrive,” said Colbert. “The purpose of the Summit is not just to celebrate each and every one of you as change-makers in every aspect of your lives, but it’s also to remind you that you can exact change, and that matters beyond today.”
The Summit also hosts an exhibitor fair with vendors from various Clemson colleges, departments and programs, as well as businesses and community organizations. In between presentations, attendees can explore career opportunities with companies like Boeing, Ally Financial, Duke Energy, JPMorgan Chase and dozens more.
An excellent example of the kind of inspiration attendees of the Summit receive came from U.S. Congressman Jim Clyburn, the Majority Whip in the House of Representatives, who regaled the estimated 1,000 young men who attended his speech in the convention center’s main ballroom with a rollicking tale of his beginning in politics.
“When I first ran for office back in 1970, I lost,” Clyburn said. “I ran again in 1978, and I lost again. I ran a third time in 1986, and I lost again!”
After the third loss, a friend asked what he would do now, since the common adage is “Three strikes and you’re out.”
“I said to my friend, ‘That’s a baseball rule!’” said Clyburn. “Nobody should live their lives by baseball rules!”
“I stand before you today as House Whip — the third-ranking Democrat and fourth-ranking congressman in the United States,” he said to a standing ovation. “So, I say to each and every one of you: You will not always get it right the first time. You may not get it right the second or the third time. There is no numerical limit on how many times you try until you get it right. If I had quit after the third time, I would not now be number three!”
Another important goal of the Summit is to motivate attendees to return to their communities and lend a helping hand to other young men. William Bradley, a Clemson senior studying international business, attended the 2019 summit as an ambassador for Tiger Alliance and was so inspired he went home to Central, South Carolina, and started a nonprofit, Team Empire Sports, that uses athletics as a vehicle to mentor young men in the small community. His mother, Dorothy, serves as assistant director of the organization, and the two of them brought 18 of their members to this year’s Summit.
“He came home and told me about Men of Color, and he was so inspired,” said Dorothy. “He was like, ‘I want to mentor young boys through sports!’ He wanted to give back to the community and especially help young guys who might not have father figures. We already have 30 young men participating in our program, and we’re hoping to grow. I’m very proud of him.”
Bradley laughed when asked what he would say to a young man who might pass on a chance to attend Men of Color because he thinks something called a “summit” might be boring.
“That’s funny because a lot of them said that until they got here. Sure enough, our guys had a wonderful time. They take away a lot of information, especially from the breakout rooms. They love it, and it’s definitely impactful. Once we got them here, they didn’t want to leave.”
Another example of the Summit’s cascading impact came with Nicholas Grant, a 2020 graduate of West Oak High School in Westminster, South Carolina, who is now a sophomore at Tri-County Technical College. He started a Men of Color group at Tri-County that has raised $10,000 to bring a cohort of students to the event. This year, he brought eight.
“We’re hoping to get more students to join us next year,” said Grant. “You’d be surprised at how many opportunities [Men of Color] can present you.”
Grant was there with Brandon Blackwell, principal of West Oak, who had advice for the young men who will have the opportunity to attend the next Summit.
“Nick was part of the original group that we started bringing,” said Blackwell. “It made such an impact on him. If you’re skeptical, give it a chance because you’re going to walk away more enriched than you could realize.”
Clemson Assistant to the President for Community Outreach and Engagement Julio Hernandez, a co-chair for the Summit, said the 5th iteration of the event ended on the highest note yet, leaving great potential for next year’s Summit and beyond.
“This was an outstanding celebration!” he said. “It’s always so rewarding to see this event bring together a national community to fellowship and share important research-based best practices in building pathways to higher education with one another, and do so much more for our young men of color. It’s through initiatives like the Men of Color National Summit, the Women’s Roundtable and many others that Clemson helps answer the call to increase the talent dividend in the state of South Carolina and the nation.”