Ed Ollie was preparing for law school in 1992 when he attended a faith-based conference for Black college students that changed his life with a compelling message: Go out and be a role model and leader in the community.
That first National Black Collegiate Conference led Ollie to become a chaplain and motivational speaker.
“It wasn’t an issue of me going to law school, but it was a time to tangibly think about my faith as a vehicle for change in the community,” Ollie said.
Now it’s Ollie’s turn to pass on that message. He spoke this weekend to about 700 students at the closing session of this year’s five-day conference.
Hundreds of Black students from across the nation flock to the convention in Atlanta, which is held every two to three years and organized by Black Campus Ministries, a network of Black Christian clubs on college campuses in 24 states.
This year’s workshops and seminars focused on various topics that affect Black culture, from the hip-hop music genre, to God in politics to improving the image of Blacks.
“Usually kids have high school faith but have college challenges ahead of them,” said Phil Bowling-Dyer, national director of the Black Campus Ministries. “We try to expand their faith and thinking on how to approach the world.”
The conference and the clubs affiliated with the organization encourage their members to stand up for what they believe is right.
Bowling-Dyer recalled an incident several years ago when student members at the University of California at Berkeley protested the school newspaper’s running of an ad opposing reparations for slavery.
Black students from the ministries rallied for more than an hour on a prominent part of the campus, wearing all black with their mouths taped shut while handing out flyers.
“They got their point across, it was on the news and the situation was dealt with,” Bowling-Dyer said. The newspaper later issued an apology, saying it had been used as “an inadvertent vehicle of bigotry.”
The winter conferences are used as a jumpstart for the members for the coming year and a chance for them to network with others from across the country.
“We needed a time for staff and students to gather and hear what others are doing around the country,” said the Rev. Boris Collins, a conference director who has his own interdenominational church in Faramingham, Mass.
Melissa Metcalfe, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, attended the conference for the first time this year and she said it was worth the trip. In the opening days, she learned different Bible studying methods and ways to praise in different languages.
“We sang songs in so many different languages, like in Spanish,” Metcalfe said. “The conference tries to make everyone feel comfortable and they do just that.”
Ollie, who is now associate regional director for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the parent organization of Black Campus Ministries, said he looks forward to giving back to a conference that helped shape his life. He wants to challenge the students’ beliefs and emphasize their roles in the future.
“One author said, ‘A leader’s job is to define reality and say thank you,”’ Ollie said. “I feel that the InterVarsity has given me a chance to define reality and a chance to say thank you to those who have been influential in my life.”
— Associated Press
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