Support for Evanston Township High School’s first Black Male Summit was abundantly clear as a crowded room listened to a follow-up report on the event presented at the District 202 School Board meeting on Oct. 20. The report, which lasted nearly an hour, elaborated on the planning, agenda and future of the Summit. ETHS students and Summit volunteers also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, personifying what the Sept. 26 event meant to them. One point that echoed throughout all comments: connecting young men to mentors helps build a much needed sense of worth and identity in the black community.
“Last year at this time, when we were giving the student achievement report, there was a lot of discussion around what to do with black males. I shared with you that we were planning something bold, planning something big … and here a year later, this is what we were discussing, the Black Male Summit,” said Marcus Campbell, ETHS Principal/Assistant Superintendent as he introduced the post-event report.
Statistics Show a Need
Mr. Campbell began the presentation by sharing several statistics. According to the US Department of Education, 49.5% of black males in grades 6-12 have been suspended from school as opposed to 21.3% of White males. Black male students are expelled at a rate 13 times higher than their white counterparts. In 38 states, black males had the lowest graduation rates of both sexes and all racial groups.
At ETHS, statistics also paint a picture of need: Twenty-five percent of black male students made the honor roll, as compared with 55% of all ETHS students; 30% of black male students met or exceeded standards in reading on the PSAE exam, while 66% of all males and 67% of students overall did the same. Only 25% of black males received some form of Special Education Supports.
These statistics are “all very startling,” said Mr. Campbell, and illustrate the “need to do something big to capture hearts and minds.”
Planning for the Summit began in July of this year. Keith Terry, ETHS parent and president of the Chessmen of the North Shore, talked about the committee of community leaders from 15 local organizations whose conversations led to the creation of a vision statement to help guide the process. The vision, he said, became “encouraging the growth and development of young Black men, building bridges between young black men and the resources of the Evanston community.”
Messages from the Summit
Ahmadou Drame, ETHS Community and External Affairs Coordinator, took the Board through the activities of the day. A morning session featured inspirational speeches from Dr. Calvin Mackie, Dr. Kamasi Hill and others. Breakout groups allowed for the sharing of experiences of being a Black man. An afternoon partnership session gave participants the opportunity to interact with local agencies and learn about the resources available to them.
“We are here today not because there is anything wrong with being a black male. We are here because of everything that’s right with being a black male. We are not hosting this event because there is something wrong with you. We are hosting this because we believe in you, we believe in your potential, we believe in what you can contribute to this school, Evanston and the world,” said Mr. Campbell in an opening statement to the 412 students and 167 volunteers who attended the Summit.
“You know that we live in a society where there are those who want to send you constant messages that you can’t. I am here to tell you, ‘you can’,” said Dr. Eric Witherspoon, ETHS Superintendent to the crowd.
“As I look out at each of my brothers here today, I don’t see the faces of troubled black males, but the ambitions minds and unstoppable goals of the future,” MD Shelton, ETHS senior and School Board member told Summit attendees.
A post-event evaluation given to participants was overwhelmingly positive, reported Mr. Drame, with 73% of respondents stating that the event was “excellent.”
During the public comment portion of the Board meeting, several community members rose in support of the Summit, speaking from the heart about how the event touched them personally.
Andrew Benpah, a senior at ETHS who attended the Summit, spoke after having returned from a college fly-in trip that same day. “One thing I noticed when talking to minorities at these colleges was that they felt academically prepared for these universities but not prepared in terms of self awareness or identity or where they fit in.”
Andrew said he was on a path to dropping out of school but ended up attending ETHS, where academic supports turned his life around. “ETHS has done a lot to provide support academically but the Black Male Summit was one of the first things I’ve noticed that helped provide value for black males in terms of self-awareness and what it’s like to be a black male and what types of things we can contribute to the community. I have not felt like an asset until that meeting, now I see the value my voice brings.”
“Day in and day out, I hear from students and faculty that there are a plethora of resources that help students achieve and succeed in the classroom setting. But they fail to understand that just because you have the resources does not mean you will succeed. I could have a fishing pole and not know how to fish. There are resources but there is no mentorship for these students,” said Khalladi Taylor, also a senior at ETHS. “The Black Male Summit helped a lot of students understand that there are people here who can help you succeed, and not only succeed, but give you an idea of what it is to be a strong black male who has the opportunity to do great things in this world,” he added.
Aside from the personal messages delivered by students and others, there was also talk of how initially, the Summit was met with some “resistance from members of the Board,” said Board member Scott Rochelle. He encouraged anyone with concerns in the future to “speak up and speak loudly” and mentioned that planners “did involve legal counsel” initially to make sure there were no issues of concern about the details of the event. “Any student who wanted could attend” and “any student can sign up for mentoring.”
There was much discussion by Board members about what to do to follow up the success of the Summit. Mr. Campbell talked of further engaging the faith-based community, black families and elevating the mentoring program.
Mr. Rochelle referred to the Summit as a “blue print” of collaboration that can be used in other ways in the Evanston community and elsewhere.
Jonathan Baum, Board member, spoke of “promptly building on this for all students, not just based on gender and race.” Board Vice President Pat Savage-Williams added that the Summit was a “concrete beginning” and that she hoped to see it repeated “over and over. … Is this the only group we want to target? Of course not. But we’ve now learned how to target groups, how to support groups.”
The answers are in the collective we,” said Mr. Campbell.