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DDCE Co-Hosts SXSWedu Conversation on “My Brother’s Keeper”

The panel discussed the historic barriers that are holding young students of color back from reaching their full potential.

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In 2014, President Obama launched the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, challenging local governments, philanthropists, non-profit leaders, educators and individuals to address the significant challenges that young boys and men of color continue to face today.

After joining President Obama at the White House last month to roll out the initiative, Gregory J. Vincent, vice president of diversity and community engagement, helped continue the conversation at a SXSWedu city-wide conversation co-hosted by the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE).

The community dialogue, held on Wednesday, March 10, included an opening address by Austin Mayor Steve Adler and a keynote by Michael D. Smith, special assistant to President Obama and senior director of cabinet affairs for “My Brother’s Keeper.”

The panelists discussed the historic barriers that are holding young students of color back from reaching their full potential, such as debilitating punitive measures in schools, lack of guidance and support from family members and administrators, and financial constraints.

Vincent moderated the panel discussion featuring professors, university leaders and UT Austin alumnus, Johnny Hill, whose personal story of graduating from a top-tier university after going to prison, moved the audience to a standing ovation. In the future, Hill plans to attend graduate school and earn a Ph.D., a feat that he hopes to prove is possible to other young men of color who are at risk of falling into the school-to-prison pipeline.

“In prison I challenged all of my ideas,” Hill said. “I realized that this wasn’t my plan, and that I didn’t want to be a gangster. I wanted to be a doctor like Dr. Huxtable. I made it to a half-way house in 2009, went to ACC and decided to go to UT. I’m now proud to say that I’m a member of the Longhorn family.”

During the panel discussion, UT Austin Professors Victor Saenz and Leonard Moore, shared some solutions for preventing students like Hill from failing in school or dropping out altogether. Moore, who is the senior associate vice president at DDCE, proposed that large universities should take the HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) approach by connecting underrepresented students with academic advisors, study abroad opportunities, and internships that can ultimately lead to a lucrative career after graduation. The goal, he said, is to make students feel like they belong.

Seanz, who is the executive director of the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color and Project MALES, shared insight into his peer-mentoring research. He also discussed new strategies for framing and defining this national problem in a way that’s meaningful for young boys and men of color.

The SXSWedu event is one of many public forums the DDCE has coordinated since it launched the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color in fall 2014. Visit this site for more about Vincent’s White House visit and how the DDCE has been taking steps toward closing the opportunity gap with a broad range of resources and research-based mentoring programs like the Texas Education Consortium for Male Students of Color, the African American Male Research Initiative, and Project MALES.

Go to the Longhorn Campaign for Men of Color website to read archived summaries from the roundtable discussions.