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Men of Color Leadership Conference at PCC Empowers Students to Achieve Their Dreams

Published on Saturday, April 8, 2023 | 6:00 am

[Photos by Eddie Rivera/Pasadena Now]
“Breaking Barriers,” the Fifth Annual Men of Color Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Men of Color Action Network (MOCAN), welcomed more than 700 students from community colleges all over Southern California to the campus of Pasadena Community College for a day of inspiration, education, and hands-on seminars on Friday.

The importance of group’s growth from its modest beginnings with 150 local college students during the pandemic years to Friday’s full-capacity attendance from across the region was not lost on speakers.

“Five years ago, a small group of educators was looking at the collection of mentorship programs designed to assist men of color to succeed in college,” said Michael Tuitasi, vice-president of student affairs at Santa Monica College and event co-founder. “We were looking at how we could make an impact, not only for students, but employees, and staff members. We were starting to network as far as how to support each other, and how to develop mentors.”

At its core, said Tuitasi, the conference is a mentoring program providing support for men of color currently in college. 

“We all saw … we needed to look at how we could dive deeper and really build communities,” he said.

Picking up the common thread, Reggie Ellis, current president of MOCAN and athletic director at Santa Monica College, said, “This event was born out of the need to address the insecurities that men of color face, like homelessness, food insecurity, and educational insecurities. We wanted to create an event like this to bring our young men together and address the issues that so many of them have, the social and educational issues they have to deal with.”

The event’s planned keynote speakers were Dr. Frank Harris III, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for the San Diego State University College of Education and rapper and educator Jason Chu, who was also set to perform at the end of the conference. 

Among the eight or nine student and five professional workshops were practical everyday advice panels such as “Being Mentored and Having a Mentor Matters: Keys to Success in School and Life,” and “Barbershop Talk: Navigating Higher Education as a Man of Color,”  and “Leadership Within: the Imposter Phenomenon and Community Cultural Wealth.”

At the event, MOCAN awarded 10 scholarships of $500 each to students who had applied earlier online. 

The college experience and success itself involve numerous factors, said Jahi Vaughns of PCC Student Services.  

“There are many things that affect their college life, and their chances at transferring to a 4-year university,” Vaughns said. 

“There’s how they feel on campus, the external factors, whether they find them through the community, empowerment in themselves or their cultural identity. So events like this bring everything to the forefront, where sometimes African-American and Latin-X students might feel marginalized on campus, events like this bring all of this to everyone’s attention and they find their culture is now front and center, and that really has a positive impact on them.” 

“They can see themselves here,” he continued,” and they see other success stories, and that gives them inspiration and confidence in themselves,” he continued. “I’m here now, and this is where I can be.”

The event was free to attend, noted Rohan Desai, conference chair for the Network.

“Many other organizations charge quite a bit of money for these professional conferences. I think it’s important for us to give an opportunity for our male students of color access to free conferences where they can learn and develop networks with one another and hopefully gain some mentorship through the faculty and professionals who work at these conferences,” said Desai.

According to Desai, this year’s event took place at Pasadena City College for the first time. He said it is likely to be hosted at a different community college next year.

More information on the Men of Color Action Network is available here

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