Young men from high schools across the state could be seen showing off their best dance moves and heard shouting, “It’s time to eat” at last week’s Boys to Men Conference, a yearly event held by the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) at Montclair State University.
Between 300 and 400 young men in grades nine through 11 came to the University Hall Conference Center on Friday morning for a full day of programming at the fifth annual Boys to Men Conference.
— Montclair State U (@montclairstateu) March 18, 2016
Highlights of the conference included a keynote address by Rahfael Gordon, an international motivational speaker and graduate of the Montclair State EOF program, along with presentations by other EOF alumni, current EOF students and university officials.
According to the university’s website, Montclair State’s EOF program “provides access for motivated state residents from underrepresented populations/areas that meet the income criteria and exhibit the potential for high achievement.”
During each Boys to Men Conference, the university invites young men in high school who could be potential candidates for Montclair State’s EOF program to come to the university for a day “to introduce them to academic and social aspects of the Red Hawk experience,” in the words of the program’s Executive Director, Dr. Daniel Jean.
In order to accomplish this mix of academic and social engagement, the conference contained professional development resources, such as informative sessions which instructed the students on how to apply to the university and helped students outline their career goals, while at the same time allowing the attendants to express themselves and feel a sense of community through shared interactions. Students were invited to show off their poetry and rap skills during a lunchtime open mic event and demonstrate their best dance moves at the prompting of MC Reggie Walker, another Montclair State EOF alumnus.
— The Montclarion (@TheMontclarion) March 18, 2016
Perhaps the strongest sense of community could be felt, however, during motivational speeches by EOF alumni Mike Spence and Gordon, who both spoke about their personal journeys of overcoming adversity to become successful.
Spence encouraged the high schoolers to see themselves as powerful, independent lions who could pursue their ambitions through persistence. He charged each and every young man to answer his call, “What time is it?” with a shout of “It’s time to eat,” which was repeated continuously with a resonance that boomed throughout the conference center. Spence ended by asking audience members to hold hands and offer support for each other’s endeavors.
Gordon later took the stage for his keynote, asking the young men to say “Keep going” every time he gestured to them while discussing his personal journey and how he achieved greatness at Montclair State and beyond. “When you see me, see you,” he told the students, which was an especially poignant message for some of those in attendance.
After Gordon revealed that his brother had been murdered when he was a freshman in college, several attendants raised their hand during the question-and-answer session to share their stories of similar losses and to tell Gordon that he had inspired them to overcome their difficulties and become successful despite hardships.
Gordon also offered advice to students on how to stay positive, deal with haters and maintain motivation. “Your location is not your destination,” he reminded students, encouraging them to build career paths for themselves and follow their ambitions with tenacity.
During the event, each high schooler completed an admissions reply card, according to Jean. EOF will use the information from these cards to open up conversations with attendants through email in order to keep communication open even after the conference ended.
Additionally, the university will now be able to track whether those who go to the Boys to Men Conference actually apply to and enroll at Montclair State through new software, said Jean, allowing EOF to track the progress of its programs.
However, for Jean, the conference was a great success. He called it the “best yet,” and “a homecoming for a few of our speakers.”
Students from 13 schools attended, many of whom the EOF program hopes will call themselves Red Hawks thanks to their visit to Montclair State at the Boys to Men Conference.