I came to the Clemson’s Men of Color Summit expecting to network. Within 15 minutes of my arrival, I’d already run into 20 people I’d known from different areas of the state; it felt more like a family reunion. I’ve been involved in mentorship for over a decade; along with some fraternity brothers, I helped create a mentorship program with Stall High School in North Charleston, South Carolina; I volunteered with Low Country Youth Services from 2018-2021. So, this was familiar to me. I’ve always felt the camaraderie of a community of black men. Well, almost always.
Since arriving in Greenville from Charleston, my life has changed in ways I could not imagine. One of the key things being that I’ve started my own business – a business that makes money. Yet I found myself yearning for the supportive community I had in the Lowcountry.
As I traversed the floors of the Greenville Convention Center during the two-day Summit, going from session to session, keynote to keynote, all the while surrounded by this positive and inspiring environment, I couldn’t help but come out this with three main takeaways.
Role Models Are Important, even for adults.
Daymond John was the second keynote speaker on Day 1, I’ve heard Daymond John’s spiel more times than I’m willing to admit; his keynote at AfroTech 2019, his intro on Shark Tank, the countless times he’s popped up on black fashion documentaries. I get it, you started from the bottom, and now you’re here. But hearing him tell his story this time hit a little different. Maybe it’s because I have more life experience now, have moved jobs a few times, and know that working for someone else for the rest of my life is for the birds? Or maybe it’s because I’m an entrepreneur myself? I no longer see Daymond John as a celebrity chasing another buck but as a representation of the type of determination and success I want to see in myself. I now fully felt the weight of his words “I was just a kid from Brooklyn…handing out flyers for $2 an hour.” He started out from the bottom with no prospects and no clear path to success other than the work he was willing to put in to get where he wanted to be. If I could hop in a time machine and reach out to 2019 Byron, I’d tell him to listen to the guy that founded FUBU.
Community is a Necessity, not a “nice-to-have.”
The Summit had a ton of great sessions that spanned a wide range of topics, such as “Frontiers to Successful Cybersecurity Careers and Entrepreneurships,” “Reaching the ‘Unreachable’” and “Reimagining Manhood.” One common thread was community. Did everyone call it community by name? No. But there was so much repetition of “find your tribe,” “establish a group,” “join a society,” and so on. And as I look around the conference, I see men and young men fellowshipping, expanding their groups, and growing their tribes.
When I was making my way to the Oscar Nuñez keynote, the previous session had run a little long, so I was moving quickly to get a good seat. Then something made me slow down. Two young men, dressed impeccably, rounded the corner walking side-by-side in the opposite direction as me, smiling and talking with their arms around the back of each other’s necks. This was a different level of fellowship. This moment reminded me why having a supportive community is essential because it helps cultivate an environment of belonging and a greater sense of self. Never would I have imagined a moment like this in Greenville. It reminded me of what I felt I lacked when I moved here and why I sought organizations like Village Launch to help get my business started. It helped me find a community of entrepreneurs.
The Youth are the Future, seriously.
I’m sure that’s a hot take you’ve never heard before. But I’m serious. The Men of Color Summit is geared toward high school to college-aged young men. Outside of the sessions I mentioned above, there were many sessions aimed directly at young men still making decisions about college and their careers. I did not attend many of those sessions. However, I did find myself in one session led by Dar Mayweather, Ph.D., called “Do One Thing: Helping Students Explore Their Talents so They can Stand Out to Industry Leaders.” I knew it would be a good one. This session was partially autobiographical; Dar told a bit of his story about how choosing to “do one thing” led him to where he is now. Dar’s session was all about demonstrations, activities and crowd engagement. For one demonstration, he called up three volunteers to juggle. Three kids came up to juggle, beginning with 3 balls, then 2 and finally just one. After the demonstration, Dar asked for members of the crowd, mostly young men, to explain what we could learn from this.
The obvious answer was: it’s impractical to juggle more items than you can handle; you will eventually drop the ball. So he called on one young man, and he answered, “It shows that it’s hard for one person to handle many different tasks, but when they all got down to one ball, they could have just passed them to each other so they could still get different things done but, just work together.” My mind was blown; as adults, we rush to the obvious, correct answer. We get the dopamine and confidence boost of being right, but as a young person, there’s no pressure of being right which frees their mind to explore out-of-the-box ideas and solutions. This is the type of innovative thinking we will need in the future to solve our new, unique issues. The old way of thinking is out of the door, and?the future is now old man.
While at the Men of Color Summit, I took pride in the level of maturity that the young men upheld throughout their time there. From their insightful questions and answers to their enthusiastic greetings and firm handshakes, these young men clearly had excellent mentors and role models. Knowing the impact some of these sessions had on me as an adult, full-time career person and entrepreneur, I can only hope that they walked away from this Summit, inspired, ready to take on the world and solve the problems of tomorrow.