Messenger photo by John Matuszak
Governor Ted Strickland speaks with Ohio University student Michael Adeyanju, left, and Jabari Grayson, enrolled at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, following a forum on improving achievement for African-American males, held at the Governor’s Mansion in Bexley Oct. 19. Strickland has directed Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut to establish the Leadership Center for African-American Males to help young men attend college and purchase homes.
African-American males face a gauntlet of obstacles in obtaining a college degree and owning a home, and even the best and the brightest are confronted with the barriers of low expectations and scant support.
During an Oct. 19 forum on improving achievement for young black men, hosted by Governor Ted Strickland at the Governor’s Mansion, Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman recalled his own difficulties in moving on to higher education.
"I had big dreams. I wanted to be like Thurgood Marshall," Coleman told the high school and university students gathered at the mansion.
Coleman said he maintained a "B" average and participated in athletics and other school activities. But when he talked to his guidance counselor, he was told "I don’t think you’re good enough to go to college."
Fortunately for him, his parents didn’t give him a choice, and he applied to 10 or 15 universities – some "out of spite," he said.
And when he was accepted to all of them, he delivered the letters to his counselor. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and then a law degree.
"It was an important time in my life. It could have gone either way," the second-term mayor said.
More support is what the young men asked for, at the event attended by PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley, Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut and Amy Klaben, CEO of the Columbus Housing Partnership.
The students asked for more support from counselors and college recruiters, and more backing for financial aid and minority recruitment programs.
Strickland and Fingerhut plan to provide that support through the Leadership Center for African-American Males.
Both men noted that they were the first in their families to attend college, and understand some of the hurdles a young person can face.
Fingerhut’s father died while he was in high school, leaving his mother with three children to raise by herself.
The former congressman and state senator, now the first cabinet-level chancellor for higher education in the state’s history, acknowledged that he received a lot of help along the way.
"I know I didn’t do it alone," he said.
Fingerhut will be soliciting private-sector support once the vision for the leadership center is clearly outlined. He said support will be provided down to the high school and middle school level.
"We want to make Ohio the number-one state in the nation for African-American males who want to go to college," Fingerhut said.
Smiley, in town to address the Columbus Housing Partnership’s 20th anniversary celebration, commented that the pathology affecting black men – their high imprisonment and school drop-out rates, compared to their white peers – has already been told.
"The game is not designed for black men to win," he said.
Instead, he offered encouragement and stated that the risk of failure is not an excuse to give up.
"You can’t appreciate success without failure," he said. "The tragedy is not reaching the goal, but not having a goal to reach."
He pointed to the achievements of Thurgood Marshall, whose efforts ended legal segregation, and Berry Gordy of Motown, "which became the soundtrack of lives," as inspirations.
The nation’s capital was designed by a black man, and a black man invented the traffic light, he noted.
And that doesn’t even take in sports, he added. "Imagine if every brother on the Buckeyes’ team quit."
He exhorted the young men to find their own gifts, "something you were born to do," and exercise those gifts.
The nation needs to nurture those gifts, as well, he said.
"America will never be as good a nation as promised if it doesn’t take seriously the plight of black Americans," Smile declared. "Your issues need to be raised on the American agenda, and need to be raised on the Buckeye agenda."
Smiley praised the efforts of Strickland in bringing such issues to the forefront as "the kind of work more governors need to be doing."
After inviting black students to the mansion in Bexley, including a group from the troubled Over the Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, Strickland said he plans to get out in the streets to talk to people on their own ground.
After that visit, his wife, Frances, urged "we’ve got to get into these communities and show that we care," the governor said.