Conference Inspires Black and Latino Men

This past weekend, Swarthmore hosted “The New Danger: Black and Latino Men Facing Evolving Challenges to their Scholarship and Community,” the seventh annual conference for Black and Latino men from the Consortium on High Achievement and Success [CHAS], an organization of thirty-four liberal arts colleges dedicated to promoting achievement among students of color. The conference was co-hosted by ABLLE (Achieving Black and Latino Leaders of Excellence), a group founded last year to promote positive images of Black and Latino males.

Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs Darryl Smaw became Swarthmore’s representative within CHAS four years ago, and was elected to the steering board in the spring of the past year. He explained that the title came from the fact that while “Black and Latino have been seen as dangerous, we’re not an endangered species, and nor are we dangerous… we began to think about it and ask ‘How do we redefine what danger means?'”

The conference’s statement of purpose declares, “The very real and NEW DANGER derives from our unwavering commitment to being (becoming) a transformative force upon the world stage… the NEW DANGER IS US… in greater numbers as scholars and greater influence as leaders!”

Keith Benjamin ’09 of ABLLE explained that as he understood the conference theme, “as Black and Latino scholars at these institutions we’ve essentially already accomplished the scholarship piece… so we’re addressing what are we going to do with ourselves and on our campuses.. what does it mean to be catalysts for change in this new day?”

117 students and 38 faculty and staff from 16 different colleges attended the conference, with about 30 Swarthmore students attending. Other colleges included Reed, Haverford, Trinity, and Holy Cross. Smaw explained that it’s important to focus on small liberal arts schools. “The Beyond the Box conference originated some years ago because students went to a conference to look at how you promote a diverse campus community, but found that the needs of a small liberal arts college were subsumed under major universities.”

Alex Avellan ’09 of ABLLE wrote in an e-mail that “it was so motivating to see males of color from a variety of institutions strengthen the bonds that tie our experiences on predominantly white campuses together.”

The three-day conference incorporated a variety of different events. On Saturday, Smaw said that keynote speaker Dr. Luis Ricardo Fraga “challenged the students to think differently about the way they’re going to see and actualize leadership, and not to be content with the current status quo.” Later in the day, speaker Dr. Maurice Wallace, author of Constructing the Black Masculine, “provided a wonderful framework for examining Black and Latino masculinity… how we’re socialized as males, making the connection to the way men relate to women and to other men, asking what are the challenges that face us in redefining black and latino masculinity.”

After these keynote speeches, participants broke into conversation circles about challenging and overcoming stereotypes, strengthening Black and Latino male community, and negotiating a college community while remaining true to your own culture, among other topics.

Faculty and staff also attended a presentation by Lamont Tolliver, Director of the Meyerhoff scholars program at the University of Maryland. “The focus of his talk was to examine what are the best practies that they utilize to increase academic success,” said Smaw.

Benjamin stressed the conference’s pro-activity, “which is what ABLLE stands for and our focus… there was an action planning session for each institution focused on not just discussing the issues but on what are we going to do about them.”

On Saturday evening, attention turned to the artistic side of Black and Latino culture. Benjamin praised spoken word artist Willie Predomo. There was also a panel discussion about the film “Hip Hop: Behind Beats and Rhymes,” which, Benjamin explained, “made us talk about masculinity in hip-hop, and how that sometimes turns into objectification of women, and violence… how can we make that a more positive culture?”

On Sunday, Benjamin said, “we had a chance to chat it up with brothers from the other schools who were interested in starting programs [like ABLLE]… it was great being able to reach out and support brothers starting from scratch.”

Avellan agreed, saying “My favorite aspect would have to be the brothers themselves. It was inspiring and exciting to see such incredibly gifted people actualizing brotherhood, creating support systems, and attempting to understand the context of our lives and how to deal with the obstacles Black and Latino males have to encounter in college and in the real world in general.”

Looking forward for ABLLE, Benjamin says that “in everything that we do we know it’s a proactive brotherhood… if it’s masculinity issues, student-faculty issues… health, well-being, academic excellence, whatever we’re doing, we’re keeping that mentality up, that we can do something to change it.”

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