Rory James has always been a self-proclaimed, unapologetic geek. Growing up, despite differences between him and his brothers, he felt affirmed as his distinct self by his family and community.
Friday, James, now director of student diversity and inclusion at IU’s School of Public Health, will be the featured speaker at a new event created by the city’s Commission on the Status of Black Males. His goal is to let young men know that they and their dreams matter.
“Not all black males or black boys are athletes, not everyone wants to be a rapper,” James said. “Black boy joy is celebrating all the positives and the different imagery of black male youth.”
The Black Male Youth Summit is open to all boys and young men in middle and high school and will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Jan. 25 at City Hall. “Celebrating Black Boy Joy: Creating Pathways for Success,” the event's theme, will center around affirming black male youths’ emerging identities and inspiring them to focus on their academic and professional futures, CSBM Liaison Shatoyia Moss and James said.
There will be four different workshops, each featuring a different speaker and topic. Some workshops will be age-specific and others will be for all ages. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. Moss said the speakers were chosen for the variety of backgrounds they represent.
“It’s just a matter of exposing them to different careers, different ideologies, different people that can motivate them and encourage them to do their best, despite the experiences of racism and discrimination that they’re going to experience,” said Donté Miller, IU Ph.D. student and middle school summit workshop leader.
Moss said the young men will also get a tour of city hall.
“We want to make it a little more friendly,” Moss said. “This is a place they should be comfortable in. We want them to know they have a voice here.”
She said she wants the young men to come away from the summit with awareness of the Commission on the Status of Black Males because many young people do not know about it.
The event will be open to teachers, parents and administrators as well. James said he hopes the summit will give mentors of young black men more cultural competency, especially in the punishment of young black males in schools and the legal system.
Miller, who studies black boys and men in the education system, will speak to middle schoolers about how to succeed in high school and beyond.
Middle school was a time for trying things out and exploring, Miller said. But he also remembers middle school as when he became more socially aware of his lower-income status and the implications of class and race.
Miller said he had teachers and mentors who told him he was destined for college, and now he wants to be that voice for middle school students in Monroe County.
“That foundational knowledge and that foundational experience in middle school is going to be most paramount to their lives,” Miller said. “If they’re inspired now, it makes it easier for high school teachers and easier on students to be empowered because they know where they’re going.”
Despite the focus on the young men’s futures, James also emphasized the importance of letting boys be boys and teenagers be teenagers and giving them black male figures to look up to.
“Sometimes you just need spaces to affirm black boys,” James said. “Let them know that they are valued, let them know that they’re loved, let them know they’re appreciated and let them be boys.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the event was next week instead of Friday. The IDS regrets this error.
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