Program gives African American males ‘social capital’ on a sometimes challenging campus
By Adam King
They come together once a year to reinforce a community — giving young African American men inspiration and an opportunity to connect with each other and their more accomplished peers.
It’s called The Gathering of Men, and while the target audience is gender-specific, anyone can attend.
Undergraduate student Joseph Amos has been going for three years, and he said his Ohio State experience wouldn’t be the same without the program, which is hosted by the Todd Bell Resource Center for the African American Male.
“OSU is huge, and I can go a whole quarter without seeing someone,” said Amos, who will graduate with a degree in economics in the spring of 2013. “The Gathering of Men provides an annual meeting place for African American males to reconnect in a professional environment. This is a very powerful program.”
It’s a simple premise: Invite a keynote speaker passionate about his subject matter, open the floor to discussion and have the students network with faculty and staff in a social setting following the keynote.
The most recent speaker was Jordan Miller, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, and Amos was stirred hearing about his life experiences.
“He spoke on many of the obstacles he faced on his path to success and how he was able to overcome them,” Amos said. “It was a powerful and motivating story.”
The Gathering of Men started in 2006 when the Bell Resource Center first opened, and other speakers have included the late Frank Hale Jr., emeritus professor at Ohio State; Clark Kellogg, college basketball television analyst, former Ohio State and pro player and current OSU Board of Trustees member; and Osei Appiah, associate professor of Communications.
“The keynotes are sometimes relevant to current events or themes we just pick out that might be attractive, important or relevant,” said Todd Suddeth, who organizes The Gathering of Men.
Alvin Jackson, who will graduate this spring with a degree in Human Development and Family Science, transferred to Ohio State after his freshman year from historically black Hampton College.
“Coming here, I knew it would be an adjustment,” he said. “I had to get used to being the only person of color in classes and in activities or events. I wasn’t quite sure how I would find where I fit.
“Gathering of Men provided an opportunity for me to interact with people like me who were striving for the same things while showing us an example of role models and leaders that have done amazing things. Gathering of Men also gave me a chance to make great friends that improved my experience as a Buckeye. I value the relationships that come from this event as well as the knowledge.”
Up to 150 students attend the fall quarter gathering with about 30 faculty and staff, and Suddeth would like to see both numbers continue to increase.
“Research shows when students have good relationships with faculty and staff on campus, it helps with increasing their social capital,” Suddeth said. “Some students are coming to campus and don’t have any social capital, no prior relationships with people who are alumni of OSU or have their college degree. There’s a lack of cultural capital too pertaining to knowing about the college process.
“Having faculty and staff there increases that chance at social capital, academic opportunities and having someone to go to for answers to questions. Having that greater connection will allow students to persist through obstacles and challenges.”
Suddeth is considering expanding the program to two events during the academic year. He’ll have more flexibility on when to hold the events since the move to semesters next year will put midterms further out than in a quarter system.
While most of the programs have been standing-room-only, continuing to have quality keynote speakers is high on Suddeth’s agenda. They are the draw, he said, so students, faculty and staff can come together to build relationships organically.
Asked if he had a speaker wish list, Suddeth said two came to mind: Namely, three presidents — Gordon Gee, Barack Obama and incoming Dillard University President Walter Kimbrough. Also on the list are astrophysicist Neil Tyson, authors Malcolm Gladwell and Walter Mosley and actor Morgan Freeman.
Suddeth’s real pleasure, however, is seeing a student come to his first gathering.
“What is a great benefit to me is when they tell me they’re so impressed with being able to meet members of the Columbus community, faculty and staff, and they’re encouraged and want to get involved in activities at Bell Resource Center,” Suddeth said. “I see that light going off in their head and relishing the opportunity to get engaged on campus.”