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Tiger Alliance members

Tiger Alliance members and 2017 Men of Color Summit attendees break for a picture with Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, and the Clemson Tiger Cub.

CLEMSON, South Carolina — An impressive lineup of nationally and internationally known speakers and guests is expected to impart knowledge and experiential guidance to hundreds of young boys and men during Clemson University’s 2018 Men of Color National Summit.

The summit returns to the TD Convention Center in Greenville, South Carolina, April 12-13 with more than 45 sessions designed to encourage students to evaluate and discover their full potential.

Clemson’s Office of Inclusion and Equity started preparing for the summit shortly after the inaugural event in 2017. The summit’s purpose is to foster a more inclusive, supportive and diverse South Carolina by helping close the achievement gap for young men of color with the promise of new opportunities through higher education.

Some 2,000 attendees are expected at this year’s summit, which is sold out. Universities, high schools and organizations from across the country will be represented.

Busloads of students arrived at the summit last year unsure of what to expect until the welcome mat rolled out for them.

“Many of these young men were just astonished to realize they were indeed the guests of honor,” said Lee Gill, Clemson’s chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president on inclusive excellence. “We don’t just say these young men are important, we make it known to them.”

“It was very meaningful for our young men to see and hear for themselves that these conversations — closing the achievement gap for African-American and Hispanic males — are important and need to be happening more often,” said Julio Hernandez, associate director of Hispanic outreach at Clemson. “I was happy the students got to see they are not alone. They are surrounded by a large engaged community across South Carolina that is committed to helping them attain an education.”

The young men Gill and Hernandez refer to are members of Tiger Alliance, a Clemson initiative that debuted at the 2017 National Men of Color Summit.

“It is a college access program designed to help build pathways to college and a college-going culture specifically targeting black, Latino and Hispanic males in the Upstate of South Carolina,” said Matthew Kirk, director of Tiger Alliance.

The goal of the program is to:

  • engage the participants in the Men of Color Summit,
  • develop relationships among the participants,
  • expose participants to the college environment,
  • provide positive male role models,
  • connect students to campus resource,
  • help participants take ownership of their success and
  • create a college-going culture among the participants.

“For me, this is a mission,” said Clemson University President James P. Clements. “The opportunity to create a better life through education is a powerful thing. These young men have what it takes.”

Clements, like most of the summit attendees, presenters and speakers, connects with Tiger Alliance members in a deeply personal way.

“My grandparents didn’t graduate from high school, and my parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college for financial reasons,” Clements said. “I learned that education is the path to a better life.”

That’s the message Kirk hopes to drive home in the schools and communities he works with.

“My vision is for the program to impact our individual students and the family system,” Kirk said. “For black and brown people, college has not always been the number one option. I think if we think historically, college was not an option at all.”

Kirk said some of the systemic roadblocks that prevented black and brown students from gaining access to higher education linger.

“College access programs like Tiger Alliance are designed to help build that college-going culture in communities, families and individuals. If a student doesn’t know anyone in their neighborhood or family who went to college, it may not be at the top of their list either,” Kirk said.

Clemson’s Charles H. Houston Center monitors and examines factors affecting trends in educational attainment, academic achievement and career outcomes among African-Americans and provided critical insights to advance the summit’s goals.

“Based on a 2018 report, the African-American and Hispanic male high school freshman graduation rates were 64 percent and 74 percent in 2013, respectively,” said Lamont A. Flowers, executive director of the Charles H. Houston Center. “Moreover, the freshman graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic males in South Carolina were 60 percent and 71 percent in 2013, respectively.”

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Flowers said enhancing educational aspirations and engagement may influence school outcomes among African-American and Hispanic males.

“Parents, school leaders, teachers, school counselors, educational researchers, higher education personnel and policymakers must work together to generate and evaluate best practices designed to expand educational opportunities among underserved communities as well as address the complex social and academic issues impacting educational outcomes among African-American and Hispanic male students,” Flowers said.

Tiger Alliance students are teamed up with Clemson ambassadors. The students get their first impression of the program and how it can impact their futures during the Men of Color Summit.

“We intentionally identify speakers and presenters who can identify with the challenges and issues these students face,” Gill said. “We want these students to see themselves in the successes of our speakers.”

The summit speakers and presenters include:

  • President James E. Clark, South Carolina State University
  • Brian Heat, academic administrator and entrepreneur
  • President Chris Howard, Robert Morris University
  • Tom Joyner, radio host of the nationally syndicated “The Tom Joyner Morning Show,” founder of Reach Media Inc., the Tom Joyner Foundation and
  • Roland Martin, journalist, TV One host and commentator, columnist and author
  • Wes Moore, founder and CEO of BridgeEdu, author, social entrepreneur, TV producer, political analyst and decorated US Army officer
  • Commissioner Carlos Santiago, Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, author
  • Damon Williams, chief catalyst, Center for Strategic Diversity Leadership and Social Innovation; senior scholar and innovation fellow
  • Juan Williams, FOX News political analyst and commentator, columnist and author

WJMZ (107.3 FM) radio personality Tone Hollywood will broadcast live during the two-day event. Hollywood is a Clemson alumnus and hall of fame track and field athlete.

Gill hit the ground running when he first arrived at Clemson in 2016 to establish the national summit. He led the Black Male Summit at the University of Akron for nine years and helped spike graduation rates in the area by 12 percent among African-American high school males.

The summit is presented by Clemson University and the Office of Inclusion and Equity. It also is supported by businesses, organizations, faith-based groups and Upstate community leaders.

More information on the Men of Color National Summit can be found at and Clemson’s Facebook, @ClemsonUniv Twitter and Snapchat accounts will include updates throughout the conference. Click here to download the mobile application.

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