HOUSTON – May 15, 2019 – From looking around at the 200 young men at Dekaney High School, there was no distinguishing between Spring ISD and Aldine ISD students –– and that was the goal of bringing together both groups for their districts’ first all-male summit on May 4, to awaken their sense of community and shared responsibility as future leaders.
Under the vision of Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson in conjunction with Aldine ISD, both districts teamed up to host the Awaken: Call to Action Young Men’s Summit, an event designed to build leadership qualities.
Keynote speaker Pastor Johnny Gentry III of Free Indeed Church kicked off the summit with a powerful message about his once troubled life as a gang member before becoming a pastor and community leader.
“I think its just awesome that the leaders of your districts care enough about you to gather the men together to make sure you are awakened,” said Gentry. “The community, many of our young men and leaders fell victim to the streets. I’m so grateful that I had people just like you all have surrounding you today to steer me in the right direction.”
In March, Aldine ISD hosted the inaugural I Am Beautiful: Female Empowerment Summit. Superintendent of Schools Dr. LaTonya M. Goffney hosted the event alongside Spring ISD Instructional Specialist and Aldine ISD trustee Dr. Kimberley Booker. Similar to the young women’s summit, Awaken brought together students to hear personal stories of accomplishments and struggles from guest speakers, coaches, teachers and staff members.
“We have great kids within the district and at Aldine ISD,” said Watson. “I asked Dr. Goffney if she could host the female event and I would host the male event so we could focus on them separately and bring in community leaders to speak into them, to encourage them.”
In one workshop, Jason Glenn shared his personal journey as a kid who struggled academically before becoming a scholar and NFL star. A graduate of Nimitz Senior High School in Aldine ISD who currently serves as the head football coach at Klein Oak High School, Glenn spoke about how future success begins in school.
“I can’t tell you about the NFL, but what I can tell you is what it takes to get there, the sacrifices, the people I had to let go, the time I had to spend and work I put in, and get my faith right,” Glenn told a group of students. “There’s some things between the NFL and where you guys are at right now that you should all be worried about.”
Westfield High graduate and Boise State University football star Dex Simmons shared a message of adversity during the summit. During his workshop, he told students he could relate to many of their stories and encouraged students not to take the wrong path chosen by many of his peers.
“I’ve been through pretty much everything you can think of –– from being in the streets, to persevering out and doing something with my life,” said Simmons. “If it wasn’t for the coaches, mentors, teachers and my parents heavily praying over me, I probably wouldn’t be in this position to even speak to you all today.”
One of the highlights of the summit was the closing presentation from Jose Luis Zelaya, a DREAMer and current doctoral student at Texas A&M University. He shared his powerful story about growing up in Honduras surrounded by gang violence, and working to help his family pay for food by washing windshields and shining shoes. At the age of 13, Zelaya decided to go search for his mother, who left for the United States a few years prior. He trekked into Guatemala and Mexico before swimming across the Rio Grande river to reach the Texas border, where he says higher education ultimately saved his life.
“I understand the pain of poverty, and I’m inspired by meeting you all because of what I have experienced,” said Zelaya. “Education is powerful, and I came here not to be in school, but to be with my mom. I didn’t know I was breaking the law and just wanted to be with my mother. So when I saw the river, all I saw was my mother. I swam across, and when I made it to the other side, I was crying because I didn’t see my mom.”
Attendees such as Jakalyn Willis, a 9th-grader at Spring High School, said participating in the summit made him understand the importance of thinking about the future. “I learned that I should be ready at all times and start getting prepared for life after high school,” said Willis.
Arthur Parks, an 11th grader at Aldine Senior High School, said he took away a few life lessons from the event.
“I learned that you can’t do anything by yourself –– you need a team,” said Parks. “Even through all of the struggles you may have, you can always find a way to overpower them.”