Hundreds of higher education leaders and students gathered at the African American Male Education Network and Development’s (A2MEND) annual summit last week to discuss Black male experiences at community colleges.
During his keynote address on Friday, motivational speaker Dr. Eric Thomas advised students to develop an action plan, grind and work hard in order to achieve success.
“If you can learn to stay motivated, if you can learn to stay encouraged, if you can learn that no matter what comes at you, it will not destroy you,” said Thomas. “If you can learn every time you fall you can get back up, I promise you there’s nothing you can’t have. There’s nothing you can’t be. There’s nothing you can’t do.”
But Dr. Edward Bush, president of Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and vice president of A2MEND, emphasized that the idea of success stemming from only hard work and grit is “problematic.”
That ideology, he said, can lead to victim blaming.
“We know a lot of folks in our history and our past that have worked extremely hard, their grind is unquestioned, but are still unable to benefit monetarily,” said Bush. “Unable to graduate from college, unable to get graduate degrees.”
Instead, he said that the focus should be on “grinding against the system” through dismantling racism and creating classroom environments where Black students are represented and seen within the curriculum.
“Everyone needs to work hard at doing something, not just us who have already been marginalized in these communities,” said Bush. “They tell us to just work harder, just do more you’ll be okay. That’s BS. Let’s change the narrative, let’s flip the switch. Let’s begin to tell the truth.”
Additionally, it is the responsibility of institutions to diversify faculty, uplift Black male voices and offer pro-Black curriculum, said Dr. Abdimalik Buul, an assistant professor of counseling and transfer center director at San Diego City College and board member of A2MEND.
“It’s not because they are not going all in, you aren’t going all in,” he said. “We can’t just put the onus on them. So yes, we have to survive in this reactionary white supremacist society, but what are you doing to make me go all in? Why can’t I just be me?”
Trauma must also be addressed.
“Racism is a serious trauma on our lives…,” said Dr. Terence Elliott, professor of music at Diablo Valley College and board member of A2MEND. “We have to talk to brothers. We can’t just talk about the fun things out on the streets. We have to come together and heal ourselves. We have to talk about what’s real and move this so we can be the best we can be.”
Dr. Ricky Shabazz, president of San Diego City College and board member of A2MEND, advised students to utilize mental health resources on campus.
“We cannot do this on our own, none of us are here because we did this on our own,” he said. “We are all here because we have someone to talk to, someone to mentor us, someone to pick us up when we fell down.”
During the conference, A2MEND also announced the distribution of $42,500 in scholarship funds. Since 2008, the organization has donated over $400,000 to students.
The funds are allocated as part of A2MEND’s ongoing mentorship program, which pairs students with an administrator within the California Community College system to offer support, professional growth and networking opportunities.
Throughout the last year, participants in the mentorship program attended webinar sessions to cover topics such as mental health, writing a resume and cover letter and navigating Zoom.
“They were not deterred by any situation,” said Buul. “They were grappling a pandemic within a pandemic. Their resilience was truly in their brilliance to withstand many obstacles, reminiscent of their ancestral determination to push through and survive. But now, A2Mend is not just here to make sure you survive. We are here to make sure you thrive.
Sarah Wood can be reached at email@example.com.