Students from five Central Valley school districts flocked to Clovis North High School Feb. 11 for the second annual Middle School African American Student Leadership Conference.
Students from school districts including Clovis Unified, Fresno Unified, Visalia Unified, Madera Unified and Central Unified filed into Clovis North’s Paul Shaghoian Memorial Concert at the beginning of the day.
They were greeted by comedian Andre Covington, who hosts Q97.1 FM’s “The Dre and Greg Show.”
“Let’s talk about what today is, its about inspiring excellence, its about reminding you of our excellence,” Covington said, adding that Black History Month is about understanding how the past relates to the future.
“Black history has always been something that I try to educate myself about every month. I didn’t really get it as a child… Black History Month wasn’t really celebrated to the extent that it is now. As I got older I understood the value of it. It is really to understand our past which brings us to the future,” Covington said.
The day was full of speeches from influential speakers and career workshops that taught students about subjects ranging from entrepreneurship to law enforcement to psychology.
A total of 32 mentors instructed the workshops, including Habitat For Humanity Greater Fresno Area CEO Mathew Grundy and CenCal Impact Mentoring CEO Calvin Black.
Clovis Unified Superintendent Eimear O’Farrell made an appearance. She said the purpose of the conference is to encourage students to think about the relevance of education and what career they want to pursue.
“I am so thrilled that we are doing this and are going to commit to continue doing it, because you need at this point in your life to start thinking about the relevance of school,” O’Farrell said, addressing students.
She continued, “We have five school districts here today who took the time to arrange the breakout sessions and arrange for the people to come here so you can start thinking about why I need to continue paying attention to my education and what direction do I want my education to take.”
Author and cultural historian Anthony Browder keynoted the event. Browder, who spent most of his career studying and writing books about ancient Egypt, spoke about his research and the importance of understanding one’s own history.
“The reason why this is so important is because I learned later in my life that if you don’t know your history and you don’t know where you are going, anyone can lead you anywhere. You won’t know if you are coming or going,” Browder said. “History is your foundation, history is all there is. Every aspect of your life is rooted in history. To not know what happened before your ancestors were enslaved is to remain literally a slave.”
Browder’s presentation focused on ancient Egyptian history and how it affects western culture.
Vinita Armstrong, an AB teacher at Clark Intermediate, praised the conference. She said it gives her students the opportunity to learn about their own history.
“I think this is an exceptional program and I am glad that they are allowing these children to be educated about their culture. It is very important that they know where they came from so that they know what potential they have and how important it is to know their roots to grow into who they should be,” Armstrong said.
She said she hopes her students will use what they learned at the conference to grow and start successful careers.
“A lot of times children don’t understand their culture, so they behave the way they do,” she said. “But this allows them an opportunity to grow, to not think where I am or where I live is everything about me.”