Written by Trey Fluellen, AmeriCorps Member serving on the AT&T Aspire Team at Broadmoor High School

On the morning of the GradNation summit, I really didn’t know what to expect from the event. We were told that we would be participating, so I was already a little nervous. According to the GradNation website, America’s Promise Alliance launched the GradNation campaign in 2010, building on 105 dropout prevention summits we convened across the country to raise awareness and inspire action. GradNation is now a large and growing movement of dedicated individuals, organizations and communities working together to end America’s dropout crisis.

I sat in the front row to ensure that I got the full impact of knowledge that would be obtained. After opening the program with East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Warren Drake, who celebrated the work of educators and the community alike, we also had the pleasure of being enlightened and motivated by Dr. Benjamin Williams who serves as the principal of Empowering Males High School, Washington, DC’s only all-male, college-preparatory high school that places significant emphasis on humanities and classical languages. His keynote was definitely was one of my favorite parts of the event. Thanks to the Baton Rouge Youth Coalition (BRYC), many students participated, and they were quite amazing and spoke with conviction.

Several aspects of this summit had various affects on different people, but there was one common underlying affect that this event had on a few of my AmeriCorps members: it motivated them to work harder and spread the facts about black students in our community. This is what my teammates had to say:

Shamitha Hulbert: "I was most impressed with the young men who represented BRYC and Scotlandville Magnet High School. These young men were very well mannered. They spoke with poise and were very articulate about what they were speaking of. I like that when we broke off into smaller groups that they didn't hesitate in the conversations. They were very engaged in the matters that were discussed and knowledgeable."

Brea Butler: "Grad Nation was an amazing experience that I think all students, teachers, administrators, and community leaders should attend. It was interesting to learn that the graduation rate for Black males in Baton Rouge is only 44%, but also interesting to learn some of the things that cause that. There was a data walk that brought to light some factors that contribute to Baton Rouge's education crisis, such as the school to prison pipeline, higher rates of suspensions in minority students, and the criminalization of Black children. There was also a breakout session where youth were encouraged to provide opinions on how to fix things from their perspectives. Overall it was incredibly enlightening, and I hope everyone in attendance takes what they learned back to their schools to make a noticeable difference."

Jasmine Evans: "GradNation encouraged me to keep hope and gave me more of a reason to serve this community. Throughout the event I experienced moments of anger, sadness, and compassion, but most of all empowerment. Despite all of the negativity surrounding black males, here is an organization dedicated to breaking down those barriers and our young black men succeed."

GradNation was an eye opener for most people at the event. I learned a plethora of statistics that made me think and question what is going on in the community. As a whole we all were wowed by the incredible speeches, success stories, and the outstanding community involvement. The dialogue sessions during the data walk was spectacular and more of that should be done through out the community. I appreciate all the intelligent students that participated in the summit. They handled their selves in such a respective manner and it made the community proud.

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