Members of Delta Signa Theta held the second annual EMBODI youth summit on March 26 at the Weissbourd-Holmes Family Focus building. The focus of the summit was EMBODI itself: Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence. Successful black males who live or work in Evanston headed the day’s sessions.

When members of the Delta Theta Sigma sorority say they would like to see black males walk with “swag,” they are not speaking of the kinds of “swag” popularized a few years ago in hip-hop culture. “We say you can have real swag, not just that overconfident walk full of false bravado, by having growth, development, work [in a career, not just a job], academic achievement and quality relationships with women.” said Carla Moore, publicity chair of the Evanston North Shore Alumnae of Delta Theta Sigma sorority. The Delta version of swag is “Self Esteem, Work, Academic achievement, Girls.

About 100 youth attended the alumnae group’s second annual EMBODI youth summit at Family Focus on March 26. Each of the sessions – “Prospects, Not Suspects,” “Getting There From Here” and “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” – was led by a successful black male who lives or works, or both, in Evanston: Dr. Carl.

There was a special presentation by Judge William Jackson and a panel discussion composed of Judge Leonard Murray, Jerome Summers of the School District 65 Board and Carl Babb-Fowler and Ron Blumenberg of the Evanston Police Department.

 Toni Rodgers, first vice-president of the Evanston North Shore chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Alumnae, chaired this year’s EMBODI event. EMBODI – Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence – is Delta Sigma Theta’s nationwide effort to address “the plight of African American males” and “address these issues through dialogue and recommendations for change and action,” according to the day’s program. 

 “The African American male crisis is simple but not often discussed,” said Ms. Moore. “Violence, incarceration, having guns, having drugs. How do we turn that around and show what ‘swag’ really is? … The national president of Delta Sigma Theta, Inc., [Cynthia Butler McIntyre] has charged us to begin refocusing energy on this crisis. … Events such as this one [in Evanston] are happening around the country, [centering on] black men in our community and how we can make sure they can stay active in the community and on path.”

Ms. Moore emphasized that, although the sorority presented the day’s event on black males, “we were the conduit.” The event was designed deliberately to have sessions targeting black youth presented by black male leaders. “They can give [the youth] tools, responses, things to think about that will take them down the right path.”

What Ms. Rodgers called a “short-term, labor-intensive” planning period for this year’s EMBODI youth summit appears to have paid off.

“Last year we had about 50 people, mostly adults and mostly in panel presentations. This year our goal was to have 75-100 youth and to make an impact,” said Ms. Rodgers. Evaluations of the day’s events were positive overall, she said. “The kids gave very considered responses. Kids liked the topics and even made suggestions for next year. They were paying attention.”

Mr. Summers, who also attended the 2010 EMBODI summit, said he felt this year’s summit had an impact on the youth who attended. “Those Delta ladies put together a really nice event. There was even an ex-convict who said, ‘Don’t be like me.’”

Mr. Summers said his message – “and that of most of us” – was: “Look around at your friends. If they’re not doing the kinds of things your parents would be proud of – get away from them.” He said he hoped that there would be an EMBODI summit next year.

And there will be. The date for next year’s EMBODI youth summit has already been set by the grand [national] chapter, said Ms. Rodgers: March 20, 2012.