The University of Akron kicked off its annual Black Male Summit on Friday morning by welcoming 150 Akron high school students to take a tour of the campus and explore academia at the next level during the two-day event.
Some of the Akron students would be the first in their family to attend college.
UA officials and Akron school counselors hand-picked the students — all with GPAs higher than 2.5, decent attendance records and no suspensions.
“No. 1, they’ve had challenges getting to college,” said Lee Gill, UA’s associate vice president for inclusion and chief diversity officer.
Gill notes drugs, crime and other barriers have suppressed black youth in urban schools from seeking a college degree.
Gill said he doesn’t care if these students go to UA — as long as they go somewhere.
“It’s not a ploy to increase our enrollment,” Gill said.
He noted that Ohio no longer funds higher education solely on how many students attend your university.
“It’s not how many you have attending, it’s how many you graduate,” he said.
But first these students have to graduate from high school. Only about 65 percent of black students in Ohio graduate on time.
The Akron school district graduates 73.5 percent of its black students and 71 percent of black males, according to the most recent statistics from the Ohio Department of Education. This lags the state graduation rate for all students at 84.3 percent.
Black students in Akron, compared with their white counterparts, are also two times more likely to live in poverty.
Gill said introducing a mentor and a role model for these targeted Akron students, as well as high school and college students from across the nation who attend the Black Male Summit, creates a pipeline of success to the goal of a college education.
“If you don’t see it, you can’t be it,” said Gill, who later greeted the Akron students with a poem he once heard Martin Luther King Jr. recite.
Jim Tressel, UA vice president of strategic engagement, also spoke to the high school students.
“What we’re most interested in is that you begin thinking now what your future is about,” Tressel told those gathered inside InfoCision Stadium.
Outside on the chilly football field, Garfield High School graduate and UA freshman Ian Banks, 19, offered some pointers to the students.
Banks was among 28 UA students who shared their stories with the group.
“With me being a first-generation college student, I didn’t have this and I had a ton of questions,” he said.
Brandon Johnson, 16, was among those listening to Banks’ story.
Before the speeches, the high school junior stood atop the stadium looking out over the field with his friends from North High School.
“It’s kind of nice to be on top,” he said.
Participants in the event were given wristbands that would allow them to reconnect at UA events.
The idea, Gill said, is to form a network or support group that the men can depend on as they embark on a college education.
Johnson said he’s played in high school football games at InfoCision Stadium.
Standing in the nosebleed section on Friday, he said he could imagine being down there someday “playing for Akron U — that blue and gold.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.