Walcott Shares Lessons of Surviving Long Odds With Highschoolers

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“Step outside of your comfort zone,” Walcott urged. “At 50, I skydived and at 60, I ran a marathon and survived.”
Walcott Shares Lessons of Surviving Long Odds


[Education]

Daunting challenges can be overcome.

That was one of the many lessons New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott shared when he engaged in a candid discussion with high school students attending the Ninth Annual National Professional Social Work Month Conference last month at Medgar Evers College.

Held in conjunction with the New York City Department of Education, the Conference was themed “Building Resilience in Young People: Promoting Cultural Identity and Academic Success” and offered strategies for working collaboratively with colleagues and students to help build resiliency in young people.  

There were several special sessions for youth throughout the morning, which addressed strategies for building leadership skills, cultural identity, male-female relationships, academic success, self-esteem, and communication skills.  Additionally, there were adult Workshops which focused on strategies for effectively engaging young people and preparing them for academic success.

Chancellor Walcott spoke to students about his experiences growing up, saying, “I was not always an 'A' student.  I'm just a Queens' boy.  I'm just like you.”  In keeping with the theme of the conference of “Building Resilience,” Walcott recounted the hardships he had to overcome as a young adult who lost his father during his junior year in college and nine months found his mother dead on the floor from a heart attack.

He shared how difficult it was for him to deal with such a tragedy as an only child.  However, he encouraged students to be resilient, have endurance and the will to challenge themselves.  “Step outside of your comfort zone,” Walcott urged.  “At 50, I skydived and at 60, I ran a marathon and survived.”

The faculty panel presentations centered on promoting cultural identity in students as a means of gaining academic success.  As the co-Convener, Dr. Barbara Newsome spoke about cultural identity, and how African Americans are dealing with bicultural socialization: “We have to learn two cultures – our own culture and the dominant culture.  We are all cultural translators.”  

Panelists included: John McQueen, Founding President of Family Renaissance, Inc.; Gloria Scott, President of the National Association of Black Social Workers; Kyle Doyle, SLATE, Columbia University; Michael Hernandez, Director of Field Operations and Supervision with Administration for Children Services(ACS); Dr. Reginald Richardson, Principal of Performing Arts and Technology H.S.; Dr. Vladimir Thomas, Director, Student Support Services, NYC DOE; Kimberly Banks, Director of COPE Center at MEC; and Dr. Michael Wiltshire, Principal, MEC Preparatory H.S.  Additionally, there was a special conversation Malaak Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz.

McQueen spoke about how Family Renaissance has created activities to encourage children to have cultural identity through manhood/womanhood training, field trips, and practicing the principles of the Nguzo Saba. Kyle Doyle visits schools and designs curricula while engaging in race acknowledgement exercises with non-African American teachers that help bridge cultural gaps. The day culminated in a special musical performance by students who are enrolled in the Performing Arts and Technical High School located in Brooklyn.

Dr. William L. Pollard, President of Medgar Evers College, served as Honorary Chair. This year’s conference was co-sponsored by the Bachelor of Science in Social Work Program in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Department of Public Administration, the Male Development and Empowerment Center at Medgar Evers College and the NYC Department of Education (DOE).

The conference was held on Friday, March 23.




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