Organization seeks to improve graduation rates among black males

By Gus Bode

Program pushes students to academic success

Factoid:The next African American Male Town Hall Meeting will be Oct. 14 at 6 p.m. in the lower level of Grinnell. The program will be about learning how to live together.

Only 17.2 percent of the U.S. black population holds a college degree, and only 42 percent of those are male.

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Assistant professor Kevin Cokley and associate professor Harold Bardo brought this issue to the surface Tuesday night in the first of a series of meetings designed to bring black males together in search of common goal.

Last Tuesday’s workshop, “Negotiating the Challenges of Being a Black Male Student,” encouraged students to strive for academic success in spite of obstacles.

The workshop, the first of the African American Male Town Hall Meetings, provided an opportunity for students, faculty and staff to discuss challenges students face in regards to academic performance and possible solutions.

Georin LaGrant, a junior in finance and marketing from St. Louis, said the town hall meetings provide a place for young black men to get to know each other.

“It’s a way to find people who actually care about you – that care that you succeed because they don’t have to do this,” LaGrant said. “They take the time out of their busy schedules to come help us to become better people.”

The goal of the town hall meetings is to increase the retention and graduation rates of black males.

Cokley and Bardo conducted the workshop.

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“I am extremely impressed with these young, black men,” Cokley said. “Contrary to popular belief, black males do care about their education.”

Students acknowledged the lack of black male role models who are good students, lack of institutional support and lack of motivation as the biggest challenges of being successful academically.

Thomas Harris, assistant housing program coordinator for diversity, said it is important for students to have perseverance and remain focused.

“If you have any obstacles or adversity [you have] to just deal with it and overcome it,” Harris said. “Everybody is capable, you just need to have your head on straight.”

Many students who attended learned how valuable members of the faculty are and how willing they are to help any student who needs assistance.

Chidi Okonmah, a senior in speech communications from Maywood, said it was great to see black men together and would like to see more meetings during the month.

“I feel at home in here,” Okonmah said. “There are actually people here who love us.”

The African American Town Hall Meetings were designed to provide cohesion and unity among the black male population at SIU.

Michael Sankey, a graduate student in the College of Education, said he is thankful for the opportunity the sessions provide for black males to come together.

“I think it is a great thing,” Sankey said. “As African American [males] on this campus, we really don’t have anything to get us organized.”

“It’s not like everybody here [faculty] who has their Ph.D or their master’s started out as ‘A’ students,” Sankey said. “They started out struggling and went through a lot and they worked hard … and before you knew it, all those guys now have their master’s and Ph.D’s.”

Damion Campbell, a senior in political science from East St. Louis, said the sessions let students know there is someone they can talk to and get assistance from.

“Seeing that they [faculty] had some downfalls and that they overcame them really helps me out a lot,” Campbell said. “For them to stand up there and share their experiences with everybody meant a lot.”

Reporter Drew Stevens can be reached at [email protected]

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