Men's Leadership Summit Examines Masculinity and Empowerment
Two weeks after the 2017 Men's Leadership Summit, organizer Robert Clay, director of Intercultural Student Affairs at Governors State University, is still on fire.
"A summit is the pinnacle," says Clay. "It's the top. It's where we have the best conversations, and it speaks to the height and the depth of what we're doing at Governors State University. When I plan each year's summit, I want to see our students empowered, and I want them to apply what they've learned to their lives."
This year's event seems to have done just that. With a charge to action and a reflection from Chicago hip-hop artist and youth development practitioner Phenom and a keynote address from writer and speaker Kevin Powell, Engbretson Hall was standing room only.
"We engage people where they are," Phenom said. "It's a chain reaction of empowerment. I was trained by Michelle and Barack Obama, and I'm a nationwide artist. The goal is to open up the youth to what is going on so they're brought into their self-development. What I do is called 'emcee school,' and an emcee is different from a rapper—a rapper is gonna talk about the jewels he has, but an emcee is a poet with a direction."
Throughout the day, Phenom encouraged students to find their voices and their direction.
Powell's keynote was an autobiographical invitation to the attendees to examine their own lives and define themselves on their own terms instead of allowing perceived culture and pop culture to define them. Powell donated copies of his 2016 book The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy's Journey Into Manhood to the summit's participants.
"I come from an underdog background," Powell said, "being raised by a single mother. I'm a first generation college student, and I know what it's like to wonder if life is going to happen for me. The personal stories of young people I've heard [at GSU] inspire me. I look at these young people, and I think of genius. I think of leaders and limitless possibility and potential. I'm just thrilled to be here at GSU to share a bit of what I've experienced in my life around leadership and around redefining manhood."
Powell first came into the media spotlight in 1992 as a cast member of the inaugural season of MTV's The Real World, the groundbreaking reality t.v. show that followed the lives of seven strangers living in a New York City apartment. After that stint, he left television celebrity for a life in activism and letters. He made a name for himself in journalism, writing for outlets such as Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Vibe, and he travels nationally and globally as a speaker with an emphasis on challenging racism, sexism, and the politics of poverty.
An all-day event, Powell's address was followed by breakout sessions throughout the campus that took their themes from the creative work of Jay-Z. Using the popular hip-hop artist's music allowed Clay and the discussion leaders to connect the summit's themes with the collective consciousness of GSU's young male student population.
"We're receiving great feedback from the students," Clay says. "They really enjoyed the way we were able to connect current issues with academic life. This is just one part of the cadre of programs that we implement at GSU to help students bring and be their best."