Retired basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson will discuss his story of entrepreneurial and athletic success during the 2020 Clemson Men of Color National Summit.
Hosted by Clemson University’s Division of Inclusion and Equity, the summit focuses on closing the opportunity gap that affects young African American and Hispanic men. The event, which will be held March 3-4 at the Greenville Convention Center, brings business, government, athletic and academic leaders together to speak to students about unlocking their potential.
“The caliber of speakers at the summit is something we have been proud of every year,” Lee Gill, Clemson’s chief inclusion officer, said in a release announcing Johnson’s participation. “Not only are they inspirational examples for the students in attendance, but they embody the leaders we know our students can and will be.”
At the center of the event is Clemson University’s Tiger Alliance. Started in 2017, the program provides ninth-12th grade male high school students with college readiness experiences such as mentorship, college visits and college-prep workshops. Attending the Men of Color National Summit is one of the benefits for the students involved.
“We are trying to illuminate pathways to college for all of our young men so that when they get to their senior year of high school, they’re making more informed decisions about what they want their next steps to be,” said Matthew Kirk, associate director of Tiger Alliance.
The program creates a community out of these young men to help overcome issues at school and in their local communities. Tiger Alliance, Kirk said, creates “a space of like-minded people” for students to “be a little more vulnerable” and speak openly about what they want in their futures.
Another obstacle Tiger Alliance helps students overcome, Kirk said, is the racism and discrimination they can face in their schools. “A lot of educators look at black and brown men and women and assume that they are not college ready,” he said.
Kirk, through the program, aims to overcome this by working with families and encouraging students to advocate for themselves.
Senior students of the 2019 Tiger Alliance cohort had a 98% graduation rate, according to the release.
Students who graduate from the program can continue to be involved by serving as student ambassadors. José Rodriguez, 19, became one last year. A Clemson pre-med student studying languages and international health, Rodriguez speaks highly of Tiger Alliance and, with Kirk and other team members, will give a presentation on the program during the South by Southwest conference this March in Austin, Texas.
“Before Tiger Alliance I didn’t know what my plan was after high school,” Rodriguez said. “My parents didn’t go to school, so I never had guidance as to what exactly to do [when applying to colleges]. They were really encouraging though.”
Kirk said about 80% of Tiger Alliance participants are first-generation college students.
“We should all have access to education,” Rodriguez said. “If I didn’t have a program like Tiger Alliance, I’m not sure where I would be today.”
Featured photo by Craig Mahaffey.