The New York State Education Department has appointed a workgroup to improve outcomes for young men of color. It's called the Blue Ribbon Committee of Regents, and they had their first meeting at Nazareth College.
The meeting included remarks from College President Daan Braveman and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, and breakout sessions for educational professionals who came in from across the state, but the highlight was a panel discussion featuring four young men of color who spoke candidly about their experiences going through the education system.
The discussion was led by Diallo Shabazz, Executive Director of 100 Black Men of New York, a branch of the national service organization aimed at educating and empowering African American children and teens.
"I'm always surprised at how resilient students in succeeding in their lives in spite of the adversity that they have to deal with."
Shabazz says including student voices in the conversation about education is the only way to reduce inequalities in the system and get real-time feedback on policy.
"We often talk about students and at students, but we seldom talk to students. Understanding the powerful experiences a student has, the impact of day-to-day education on students' lives, only comes from them."
Students spoke generally about preparing for college and careers, and violence in school, but they also touched on the way specific events like the Genesee Street shooting affect their education.
Freemontá Strong was among the student panelists. He says in the weeks following the shooting outside the Boys and Girls Club in Rochester, it was hard for him to focus on school work.
"I wasn't there, thinking about my education, I was there sitting down drawing on my books, rest in peace Rae Rae [Raekwon Manigault], rest in peace Jonah [Barley], because I was struggling with that and I didn't have anything to help me cope."
Strong says the youth engagement organization Teen Empowerment was crucial in helping him get through the trauma, and used this example to highlight the need for social support services in schools.
Panelists also discussed the impact of their relationships with their teachers, good and bad. Savion Rambert says he feels like sometimes his teachers do not understand the external pressure he faces.
"As black males our minds aren't always in the exact place at the time in the classroom. I felt like sometimes my teachers weren't relatable enough to me, and not just me but my colleagues around me."
The hope is that hearing about these experiences will help the workgroup put together recommendations for policies and budgets that will help reduce obstacles for young men of color in education, and ultimately in life.