Empowerment, enrichment, engagement, and encouragement.
Those were four goals of the ninth annual Black Male Summit, which was held this past weekend at the John S. Knight Convention Center and the Student Union. Over the course of two days – Friday and Saturday – participants attended a series of sessions, speeches, and workshops conducted by respected figures in the African-American community.
Workshops were designed to help black men find success in the university, the workplace, and society at large. While some workshops were created specifically for black educators, most were applicable to anyone. Topics included “How to Survive in a Highly Technical Field Being a Minority,” “Activism: Social, Technological, and Political,” and “I Have Hands, So Why Can’t I Write?” among others.
Perhaps the most recognizable speaker at the summit was Stephen A. Smith, the ESPN personality who currently co-hosts a sports-talk-show “First Take.” He delivered the opening keynote address for Saturday’s sessions.
“You cannot be black, and not expect to face adversity,” Smith emphasized. “The question is, what are you going to do about it?
Throughout his speech, Smith made connections between his life story and the summit’s core goals of empowerment and enrichment. He talked about his motivation – how, as a child, he was twice left behind in school with a low reading ability. After the second time, he vowed not to let anyone laugh at him again.
It was that determination that led him through journalism school, several newspapers, and eventually the national airwaves on ESPN.
Smith warned attendees not to adopt a self-defeating worldview. He said that many African-Americans enter their careers expecting to be discriminated against, which can itself lead to failure.
“Closed-minded people don’t win,” he said.
Smith then encouraged participants to make themselves more appealing to employers by getting internships, making connections, and having mentors. He especially emphasized the importance of surrounding oneself with positive influences.
“Be careful of the company you keep,” Smith said. “Everybody doesn’t have your best interests at heart.”
Smith also addressed some of the personal controversy he has been involved with. In 2014, during an on-air discussion of the domestic assault committed by NFL player Ray Rice, Smith suggested that women should ensure that they “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.” This statement caused public outcry and a one-week suspension from ESPN.
Although he was displeased with how his comments were interpreted, Smith humbly accepted his punishment, telling his boss to “do what you gotta do.” He used this incident to convey the importance of professionalism to attendees.
“When you are a player and you want to be contentious… you have to be dealt with,” he said. “When you can’t stay off the weed, you have to be dealt with.”
However, he made it clear that the path to success requires toughness, saying “In pursuit of…success, whatever stands in my way, I’m going to mow it down.”
Mario Brown, an attendee of the Black Male Summit, praised Smith’s speech and the summit as a whole.
“What this has done for me is help me understand different mind frames,” Brown said.
He went on to describe the speakers as “great” and the workshops as “immaculate.” Brown, who is employed as a workshop advisor in Michigan, said that the summit has inspired him in his work.