On February 19 – 20, 2015 the University of Arkansas at Little Rock hosted the fifth statewide African American Male Initiative Consortium Conference, bringing together partners and supporters from across the state to address pertinent issues impacting African-American male students. During the conference, there were three different tracks: student, administrative, and faculty. The various tracks had speakers who presented information relevant to the conferees. This year’s conference had approximately 130 attendees in spite of the inclement weather. Based on the evaluations from the 2015 conference, the speakers were significant. Overall, the speakers’ objective was to help improve the retention and graduation rates of African American males at the collegiate level in Arkansas.
Dr. Laurence Alexander, from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, was the featured speaker during the first night of the conference. According to one of the conference participants, Dr. Alexander “was very inspiring, and provided great practical and life advice.” Dr. James Moore III, from The Ohio State University was the opening plenary speaker for the conference, and he spoke about African American Males throughout the educational pipeline. He was very knowledgeable and able to engage the participants. Odell Bizzell and Vincent Harris, speakers who were asked to return after an exemplary presentation during the 2014 conference, spoke during the student track. These presenters spoke to the young males about how to thrive in today’s society. Moreover, Maurice Blair, a life coach, spoke to the students about the importance of making adjustments and not excuses.
The administrative track featured Cory Anderson who presented on The Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST), as well as the impact of higher education in the lives of African Americans in regards to the “cradle to prison pipeline” mentality.
Furthermore, Dr. Julien Mirivel and Dr. Sherry Rankins-Robertson, faculty members at UALR, discussed their experiences working with diverse student populations. Dr. Mirivel demonstrated how communication, no matter how large or small, can have a significant impact on students. When faculty and staff take the initiative to make intentional, positive contact with students, they are better able to form the necessary relationships to help them become successful. Dr. Sherry Rankins-Robertson, who plays a significant role in the summer bridge academies, discussed how the entire campus community working together is imperative to student academic achievement.
In closing, due to five successful state conferences, the convening partners have decided to host a national conference on April 27- 29, 2016. Little Rock will host a RISE (Research, Integration, Strategy and Evaluation) Conference which is a new national initiative to help boys and men of color thrive at every stage of life, backed by donors including The Atlantic Philanthropies, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Annie E. Casey Foundation. The collaborative will focus on four areas –education, health, criminal justice, and economic opportunity and workforce development — with an aim to develop best practices, inspire new research, and bring together academics and policy makers to improve communities. RISE is co-directed by Dr. Shaun Harper, the founding executive director of Penn GSE’s Center for Race and Equity in Education. Dr. Harper has built his career studying pathways to success for Black and Latino males, and finding ways to widen those pathways. RISE represents a continuation of that work.