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Top Officials Hear Stories, Advice from Students

Left to right: Dr. William Hite, Jr., Dr. Donald Generals, Arne DuncanSeated around a table with Mayor Michael Nutter and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan listening intently, Community College of Philadelphia students spoke from the heart.

They, along with a number of other Philadelphia students, shared stories of their struggles and victories with the men and offered recommendations on ways to empower their peers.

On July 11, the College hosted Secretary Duncan’s roundtable convened by President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a new effort to help young men of color reach their potential and address persistent opportunity gaps.

Jason Mays, 30, president of the Student Government Association and the 2014 Student Leader of the Year, shared that he dropped out of high school as a youth because he didn’t like the school. Later, after he enlisted in the U.S. Army, Mays found several mentors who persuaded him to focus on getting an education. "They had expectations for me," said Mays, who graduated from the College in May with an associate’s degree in Business Administration.

The event was attended by more than 60 observers, including the College’s president, Dr. Generals; Philadelphia School District superintendent, Dr. Hite; Director of the College’s Center for Male Engagement, Derrick Coleman; and former Commonwealth Judge Doris Smith-Ribner, an advisory board member of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

The young men at the table represented neighborhoods from across the city. In addition to Mays, Quaris Carter, another May graduate; Jose Quintero, Aneury Rodriguez and Nicholas Gross, participated from the College.

Discussion topics included:

  • The importance of mentorship.
  • The need for mentors to affirm positive behaviors during difficult transitions.
  • The relationship between academic achievement, workforce preparedness and trauma.
  • Greater financial support for institutions that support young people.
  • The need to promote the practical importance of a post-secondary degree, credential or certificate.
  • The need for out-of-school activities and opportunities to learn and develop.

Secretary Duncan highlighted the need for the U.S. Department of Education to do a better job of disseminating information about federal and other resources to help with college costs.

The My Brother’s Keeper Initiative will hold another discussion during the fourth 2014 Summit on Educational Excellence for African Americans at the University of Pennsylvania, October 17 and 18.