Event unites minorities for racial discourse

In J. Cole’s song “Sideline Story,” he raps, “I wish somebody made guidelines/On how to get up off the sidelines.” This Saturday, about 200 men gathered to try to accomplish just that at the University’s second annual Black and Latino Male Summit, which adopted the theme “A Sideline Story” after the song.

The event drew primarily black and Latino men, though there were men and women of all races present. Students and faculty came to the University from schools across Illinois and even as far as Wisconsin and Indiana.

Rory James, director of the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center, said this year’s summit included many more Latino men, which is important because they go through many of the same struggles as black men.

“These are two populations that we could address at the same time because there are similar issues,” James said.

Lizette Rivera, director of La Casa Cultural Latina, said the event’s theme, “A Sideline Story,” holds a special meaning.

“It’s a play on words where black and Latino men are usually not in positive news, and they’re not headlines; they’re kind of left to the side,” she said. “So this time … we’re putting everyone in the forefront; we’re putting black and Latino men in a positive atmosphere to the front.”

The event was co-hosted by La Casa Cultural Latina and the Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center.

Rivera said the day-long event consisted of 16 workshops covering many different topic areas: health and wellness, coalition building, leadership and identity being four of the primary issues.

She also said the summit served two main purposes.

“It’s all about the empowerment and education of black and Latino men,” she said. “It’s also supposed to be a retention type of workshop; giving the students tools to empower themselves and continue on.”

Keynote speaker Victor Rios, associate professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, spoke about his research on the minority population and his time as a gang member.

He said the great disparity between the percentage of black and Latino youths in jail compared to white youths shows a problem with how young minorities are treated in the U.S. He said “mass incarcerations” and racial profiling are the results of several factors working against black and Latino males.

“There’s a systematic stripping of dignity that takes place not just with police. It’s also parents, it’s also schools, it’s also neighborhood watch people,” Rios said. “We’re pretty much being set up for failure.”

He admitted that he made poor choices that led him to get caught up in gang activity when he was young, but he said the systems in place made it difficult for him to go about it differently. He spoke about the second chances he was given and how he was thankful for the way they shaped his life’s direction.

James said this year’s summit had a much better turnout than last year.

“(I wanted to) just get them together so we can talk about issues that pertain to men — this intersection of identity as a man of color and then your gender, your role as a man,” he said. “I’m amazed at the turnout because it shows you that people want to have these conversations, and they want to talk about these issues.”

He said a setting like the summit allows for men to talk about these issues and have intimate conversations that usually are not discussed. He said the camaraderie can help to encourage a black or Latino man to stay in college and continue to pursue higher education. He said statistics show that black and Latino men have some of the lowest retention rates in college, which is always a concern.

“If you can’t find a community on college campus, the less likely you are to be retained within the college culture,” James said.