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Mfume has a “Conversation with the Roanoke Valley Community” at HCC, April 5

The Honorable Kweisi Mfume was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Men to Men Summit, April 5-6 at The Centre at Halifax Community College (HCC). His first presentation came during a prelude event called “A Conversation with the Roanoke Valley Community,” on April 5. During the event, Mfume talked about the importance of male empowerment in transforming the Roanoke Valley.

 Mfume is a former U.S. Congressman from Maryland and past president of the national NAACP. He highlighted various issues in today’s world including unemployment rates. Although, the reported overall unemployment rate is 8.8% nationwide, it is 18% for the black community and 23% for black men, reported Mfume. “When we talk about empowering young men, all young men, and in this case, particularly black young men, it has to be a serious conversation. It’s not just me,” Mfume added.

 In his remarks, he acknowledged his past professional accomplishments, honorary degrees he has received and boards on which he has served. He also presented the story of his childhood and early adult life, which presented a very different picture from what one might expect.

Growing up, Mfume was the oldest of four children from a placed called Turner’s Station outside Baltimore, Md. “I was born into an abject poverty situation,” he said. The area was across from a steel mill; it was segregated and poor and had a lot of issues. The family then moved into Baltimore. He had an abusive stepfather who eventually left the family. His mother worked two jobs. The closest person who resembled a father to him was a man named Mr. Charles who later revealed that he was Mfume’s biological father.

 When he was 14, Mfume’s mother developed cancer and struggled with that illness for two years. Mfume described his mother talking to him each night during those years in an effort to teach him about responsibility, race, and life challenges. After his mother’s death, Mfume dropped out of school and worked odd jobs. As he saw others around him living the life he wanted and thought he could not have, he grew angry.

 He was recruited by a gang and lived that lifestyle for four years. “I was empowered, but in the wrong way,” said Mfume.

 “Everyone has that one person who’s in your head…Every time you’re about to do something wrong, you see their face,” explained Mfume. In the middle of a craps game, he heard his mother’s voice, saw her face and knew that he had let her down. He was 22 at the time. Mfume then decided to leave the gang, but as he acknowledged, “You don’t just turn in your resignation.”

After several attempts on his life by gang members, Mfume left that life. He earned his GED and took a minimum wage job to provide for his siblings. Then, he was accepted into a community college. Although he was afraid he would not be able to succeed, he finished the program and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. He was on his way to law school when he decided to run for office.

 “I wanted you to know this because it’s important that somebody saw me not where I was…but kept trying to find ways to empower me with love, empower me with their prayers, and empower me with the simple eloquence of their example. I’ve had so many men in my life…who said ‘You can do this’,” he said.

 Mfume added that looks are a passing thing and encouraged everyone to “see people where you think they could be.” He encouraged the adults in attendance to be mentors to young people and to be honest and consistent. “They will respect you for that,” he added.

 Mfume then took questions from the audience.

 PRIDE of Halifax Male Mentoring Program Director Daniel Lovett updated the audience on the program’s successes. “We’re here because we want to make our community a better place to live,” said Lovett.

 He added that the summit was the brainchild of HCC President Dr. Ervin V. Griffin Sr. “For the first year, while taking his position, he knew that there was something that needed attention, there was something that we needed to do to help make this place a better place not just for men, but for our community and for our state.”

 Lovett added that Dr. Griffin’s vision for the program started as a small group of 30 men and a budget of $25,000. Today, the PRIDE program boasts 150 men and has acquired $1.2 million in federal funding through the U.S. Department of Education. It started as a response to African American males’ struggles to succeed in college and in life.

 Lovett noted that there have been strides for men involved in PRIDE. Graduation rates are now the same as for non-African American men, there has been a 35% decrease in the drop rate due to financial aid issues and four-year college transfer rates are 300% up.

 “Our purpose here today is to bring you into the conversation, to include you in the dialogue and to make sure that you walk out of here with some clear plans on what you can do to help us to make the Roanoke Valley a better place,” added Lovett.

The Honorable Kweisi Mfume was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Men to Men Summit, April 5-6 at The Centre at Halifax Community College (HCC).

The Honorable Kweisi Mfume was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Men to Men Summit, April 5-6 at The Centre at Halifax Community College (HCC).