Back in 2009, I joined with some of my college colleagues to create the Black and Brown Male Summit, inspired by one we had attended in Florida, called Black and Brown College Bound.
Ours started small, with maybe 25 students attending. Now, 400 to 600 young men of color come to the Highline College campus each year for the event. They give up an entire Saturday during the school year because the event means that much to them.
When Highline hosted its eighth annual summit in November, more than 400 young men of color descended on the college campus from around the region. These men ethnically identify themselves as black/African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, African or mixed ethnicity. They experienced a powerful message from keynote speaker Jason Chu and multiple workshops that are created and delivered by local men of color who have committed themselves to the work of transforming and empowering our region’s young men of color.
The summit was created to foster an environment where relevant content and positive representation of other men of color could be in one space, generating an empowering and inspirational setting where self identity is centered in engagement.
Let’s put all the adult commentaries and the political statements aside because the young men who attend are truly transformed and empowered. This year we asked the young men in the summit’s opening session to indicate how many were attending for the first time. Over 70 percent of the young men raised their hands. When we asked how many were attending for the second and third time, hands were raised high in the air.
“I never knew that there was that many black and brown boys that felt the same way I felt. I feel much more empowered now. Thank you,” an attendee wrote on his evaluation.
We have had students who attended the summit attend Highline College and become volunteers of the summit. We have had participants become more aware and focus on taking ownership of their future and attend college or vocational school even if it is not Highline College. Testimonials from adult chaperones, parents and school administrators on what the summit has done for their students are powerful.
During their young lives, our young men of color have witnessed men of color across our nation linked to hypersexual images, street violence and law enforcement confrontation that led to death, protest and self inflictions. With our summit, we give our young men a counter to all of that with positive images and role models. And we provide a platform and a safe place for these young men to address the stressful feelings and trauma that they are feeling and seeing.
The summit has implanted itself as a staple event, not only on the Highline College campus, but also across the state. Many communities from around the country are trying to have conversations at their local college and K–12 institutions in the Black and Brown Male Summit fashion. The summit provides a day of positivity, support, encouragement and, most importantly, a day where content delivered ignites a flame of collective and personal enrichment.
Rashad Norris is the director of community engagement at Highline College. He regularly visits middle and high schools and community organizations to advocate for the importance of education. Norris earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Puget Sound and master’s degree from Evergreen State College.