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CSUSB student Chidera Okam part of network to help keep young African American men in college

Chidera Okam

Chidera Okam

By Jamal Eric Watson

If colleges and universities want to find out how to best retain young African-American males, they may want to consult Chidera Okam.

Okam, 20, a senior at California State University, San Bernardino has some concrete and simple ideas that he says can prove useful in keeping young Black men in college.

The upper-class Black men have to get to the first-year students before they drop out of school, says Okam, an economics major from Nigeria who has plans to go on to law school. We have to target these young brothers and educate them about what college is really like.

Seem simple? Perhaps, but experts say that these kinds of high-touch examples go a long way in strengthening ties between young Black and helping them to graduate at higher rates.

For the past four years, Okam has been a member of the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB) on his campus, an organization founded by Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe in 1990, that has been a forerunner to some of the more recent initiatives focused on African-American men, including President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.

Since its inception, SAAB has expanded its national presence and now includes more than 200 chapters on college and university campuses and in middle and high schools across the nation.

Okam and about 300 other young men mostly African-American gathered in Dearborn, Michigan, over the weekend with their faculty advisers for the group’s annual national conference. Over two days, the young men networked and talked during fireside chats about a range of topics from mentoring to community building. They also heard from actors Lamman Rucker, Dondre Whitfield and Halle Berry. This year’s theme was, “Transforming the Mindset … Redefining the Narrative.”

They say that the conference is an opportunity to decompress and reunite with others who are committed to advancing the success of other young Black men.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” Okam says of his participation in SAAB. “I am really committed and eager to reach out and help others coming along.”

These men hug and embrace. They’re not afraid to use the word love. And they openly share their life’s challenge, as one young man did when he reflected on being suicidal a few years ago. Now, he says, he’s on a forward path and has no desire to return to those dark days.

That form of brotherhood has caught the attention of national funders such as the Lumina Foundation, which has been a sponsor of the organization headquartered at the University of Toledo.

Amadin Agho, a marketing and supply chain management major at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), is a junior and attended his second conference.

At IUPUI, there are about 30 students who are active in the SAAB chapter. They get together regularly to talk about personal and academic matters.

“It’s amazing to see so many young Black men who are driven,” says Agho. “It’s also good to see that the SAAB family is growing and that there are new faces joining the family. We are able to lean on each other for support and that’s a good thing.”


 

Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at jwatson1@diverseeducation.com. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.

IEABSE to Award Scholarships to Students across the Inland Empire

Black GRAD

FONTANA, CA- In honor of our local youth, the Inland Empire Alliance of Black School Educators (IEABSE) presents “It Takes a Village” 2016 Scholarship Celebration, sponsored by Black Voice Foundation and New Life Christian Church. The scholarship celebration will take place on Saturday April 16, 2016 from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Jessie Turner Center located at 15556 Summit Avenue in Fontana. This event is open to the public with a $20 donation, but seating is limited. The Scholarship Celebration foreshadows the IEABSE annually hosted Inland Empire High School Black Graduation Recognition Ceremony (I.E. Black Grad).

The I.E. Black Grad is the largest High School Black Graduation Recognition Ceremony in Southern CA and will be held this year on May 14 at 2 p.m. on the CSU San Bernardino campus where over two thousand individuals are expected to be present. The Scholarship Celebration offers family members, educators and community members an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of local African American students. The scholarship donors are comprised of local organizations and businesses as well as individuals who desire to see Inland Empire students thrive in their educational aspirations.

Seniors from all districts throughout the Inland Empire were invited to apply for our “It Takes A Village” Scholarship Contest where winners will be awarded from $500 to $1000. Each application was evaluated on academic merit, community service, perseverance and leadership.

This year’s special guests include 47th District Assemblymember, Cheryl Brown, and Fontana Mayor, Aquanetta Warren. There will be representatives from each donor organization and the high schools of the scholarship recipients. An anticipated highlight of the ceremony will be “The Reveal” where students will make final decisions on their college/university choice. For more information please contact IEABSE directly at ieabse@gmail.com.

Inspired By First Lady Michelle Obama Bennett Student Creates Exercise Program

Ka’la Hill, during the Bodies by Bella Program.

Ka’la Hill, during the Bodies by Bella Program.

GREENSBORO, NC — Bennett College Junior, Ka’la Hill is stretching her way to the top with her program “Bodies by Bella.”  She was inspired to start the program by First Lady Michelle Obama.

Hill, who is from Upper Marlboro, Maryland, started this program as a way to encourage her fellow students to become more physically active and maintain healthier lives.

On September 29, 2014, Hill scheduled her first Bodies by Bella class.  At first, attendance was very inconsistent.

“I kept showing up, even if no one was there, but that gave me time to learn new things to contribute to my workouts,” she said.

This year, her class popularity has grown from 12 to 20 students in attendance.

Aside from just wanting to help her sisters, Hill attributes her inspiration for starting her program to First Lady Michelle Obama’s, Let’s Move Campaign.  The First Lady’s campaign seeks to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity.

“I would love to get the chance to say thank you to the first lady for inspiring me and teaching me the importance of being physically active,” she said.

Hill is also grateful for the Bennett College experience she has had thus far.  “Bennett taught me how to be a leader. The support of professors and the encouragement of my sisters has helped get me where I am today.”

Now that Hill is a junior, she has been thinking about her plans after Bennett College.  She wants to earn a master’s degree in social work and start a community-based program to target childhood obesity.  She also wants to implement nutritional programs for low-income people.

Until then, she is focusing on how to continue fitness programs for Bennett College.  “By the time that I leave [Bennett], I would like to have several fitness programs in place for my sisters.”

She says that one of the most rewarding experiences from her program is when she hears her sisters say that they have lost weight or that they are seeing a difference.

Bodies by Bella is offered every Monday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m., in the Gym at Bennett College.