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Conference Empowers Male Youth to Dream of College

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“My dream is to go to a university or college.”
“My dream is to be a successful black businessman.”

These are a few of the dreams shared by high school students Jan. 19 at Cal State Fullerton’s second annual Male Youth Empowerment Conference.

More than 300 ninth- and 10th-grade students from Orange County and Los Angeles schools participated in educational workshops, toured the campus and learned about persistence strategies for young men of color.

“Many times we don’t see ourselves or have big enough dreams for ourselves,” said Clint-Michael Reneau, associate vice president for student affairs. “The purpose of this event is to help you understand that you have a place and you are worthy of being on a college campus.”

The conference keynote speaker was Brian Johnson, author, motivational speaker and talent manager.

Johnson shared his personal journey of growing up in a single-parent household — where his mother worked four to five jobs — to studying international marketing and Spanish at the University of Alabama, becoming a talent coordinator for “The Arsenio Hall Show” and a talent manager for Apple Music and “Bill Nye Saves the World.”

“I didn’t allow my situation or my circumstances to dictate my future. I’m a dreamer,” he shared. “Now is the time for you to start preparing for your future. Now is the time to start considering all the things that you want to do.”

Johnson shared tips from his book, “Live Your Dreams Out Loud,” including identifying passion and purpose, connecting with people, developing physical strength and emotional resilience, developing talents and skills, and learning how to communicate and sell.

“Cal State Fullerton brought you down here today to show you why it’s important to dream, and why it’s important to declare and interpret your future,” said Johnson. “They’re going to give you the resources I wish somebody had given me when I was your age.”

Following the keynote presentation, students attended several breakout sessions: “Declaring Your Destination: Writing Your Own Roadmap as a Leader,” “Breaking Barriers: Building a Culture of Success for Men of Color,” “Committed Action,” “What are the Odds? Men of Colors Resilience in Higher Education” and “Not Just a Scholarship. It’s a Community.”

One of the presenters, Sergio Contreras, is Orange County United Way’s director of education and work-based learning, as well as a Westminster city council member.

“I’m a councilman, a former school board member, a first-generation American, English learner and the first in my family to graduate from college,” said Contreras. “I hope my own story can show these kids what’s possible when you commit yourself to something — that you can do anything.”

The conference was funded in part by Orange County United Way’s Destination Graduation Initiative, which is focused on reducing the local high school dropout rate and bridging the education achievement gap.

“We want all kids to graduate high school on time, college- and career-ready,” said Contreras. “Being able to visit a university and see what’s available to them serves as an inspiration for students to achieve their dreams — regardless of their circumstances.”

Other event partners included Cal State Fullerton’s Male Success Initiative, Educational Partnerships, College of Education, BOLD Women’s Leadership Network and Center for Scholars.