The civil rights leader Whitney M. Young Jr. once said, "It's better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared."
This quote, repeated earlier this month by a keynote speaker at the 2011 Millennium Leadership Conference, was a call to action for students of color to prepare themselves for a future of unknown opportunities. The words were especially meaningful to Fabiola Alouidor, an HCC student originally from Haiti.
"For students like myself, the conference was such a great experience to learn from each other and make connections," she said. "I'm very grateful I was able to take part in this journey."
This year, eight HCC students and three staff members were among the hundreds who attended the 9th annual event, which was held at Clarke University in Worcester earlier this month. The theme of this year's conference-geared toward students of color-was "Becoming Tomorrow's Leaders."
"What's great and amazing about the Millennium Leadership Conference is that it is all student run, so Clarke University students are the ones who put it together, and get the speakers and presenters," said HCC senior academic advisor Jossie Valentin. "For students of color, the conference is a safe environment for them to come forward with ideas and it provides opportunities for them to speak about their own experiences."
The students and staff who attended the conference represented three different HCC groups, the Multicultural Academic Services (MAS) program, the LISA club (Latino International Student's Association) and the Pathways program. Students were able to attend workshops on diversity, athletics, undergraduate research opportunities, graduate opportunities, dealing with micro-aggressions, self-identify and social media. "This was a wonderful experience for me," said Ugochukwu lyeh, an HCC student originally from Africa. "I got to share my ideas and interact both academically and socially with other intelligent students. The diversity was beautiful."
A very popular workshop called "Facebook: More Than Just Friends" was presented by Valentin and Myriam Quinones, coordinator of HCC's MAS program. "It was about talking to students about how social media can impact social justice and social change on both an individual and collective level," said Valentin. Quinones and Valentin had approached Communications faculty member Joanne Kostides about the topic of social media based on a course that Prof. Kostides is teaching at HCC this semester. "We met with Prof. Kostides and asked her if we could use her course, including the name of the course, as a springboard to create a presentation for this conference. She immediately said yes, and we took it from there."
There was also a talent show and an alumni panel about leadership, diversity and cultural differences.
"Overall, it was just a good opportunity for our students to be exposed to other cultures, other environments," said Valentin. "I think the conference definitely gave them an opportunity to broaden their horizons."
All in all, the students who went said just attending the conference had been a great opportunity and they would welcome the chance to go again next year. "It was great interacting with student leaders from other colleges who identify themselves as ALANA (African, Latino, Asian, Native American)," said Eilanie Alvelo, the LISA club secretary, who is originally from Puerto Rico. "The workshops truly inspired me to use my education and leadership skills to make a difference in our community."