Beaufort News

Local educators planning national African-American men's conference in Columbia

A two-day national conference to address issues that hinder black males' success has been slated for President's Day weekend in Columbia.

Local education leaders met Thursday to discuss the annual National African American Male Conference and collaborate with the state Commission for Minority Affairs, one of the conference's organizing groups. Attendees included Beaufort County school board Chairman Fred Washington Jr. and University of South Carolina Beaufort Chancellor Jane Upshaw.

Mary Amonitti, vice chairman of the Commission for Minority Affairs, said she had lobbied to bring the conference to South Carolina since attending this year's event in Indiana. She hopes Beaufort County residents will attend and help plan the conference, to be held Feb. 19-20. The event is expected to address high rates of school dropouts and incarceration among black males, among other issues.

The conference's theme is "Cutting the Pipeline to Prison." Shelia Albergottie, a program coordinator with the Commission for Minority Affairs, said one of the most effective ways to keep young black males out of jail is through education, an approach that will be emphasized at the conference.

Washington agreed. When he sees news reports of young black men arrested for crimes he said he often checks to see if it is a Beaufort County student. "I wonder, 'What happened to them? Where did we fall short?' " he said.

Albergottie said the conference will focus on sharing information from agencies across the country that have found ways to help black males, and then putting those ideas into action locally. They hope to draw representatives of school districts, faith-based organizations, chambers of commerce and nonprofit agencies.

"This problem is bigger than one agency or group," said Thomas Smith, director of the Commission for Minority Affairs. "We have to collaborate. ... We want to leave invigorated and determined to work within our communities."

Albergottie said the conference will feature cultural performances, including an evening of gospel and jazz music, along with workshops and speakers. A headline speaker hasn't been secured yet, but Albergottie said the commission hopes to persuade President Barack Obama to address the conference.

Follow staff writer Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

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