CARSON — African American men were told to ignore the stereotypes and defy the statistics during the 2017 Empowerment Summit at Cal State Dominguez Hills Sept. 23.
In the keynote address, Hollywood producer and motivational speaker DeVon Franklin told the men in attendance: “Don’t buy into the media’s hype about black men. So many times people want to put us down. Defy those statistics.”
Franklin’s talk was labeled “Manning Up.” He urged men to resist being swayed by negative outside influences.
“Do not indulge in substance abuse and let it destroy your life,” he said. “Don’t fall prey to the messages you hear in the music because it could lead to your destruction. Keeping your mind clear is important.”
He also advised men to learn to cherish their relationships.
“Some think manhood is dating more than one woman, but we must stop playing with women’s hearts,” he urged. “They are not toys, they are real people. When you take women seriously, everything changes in your life.”
Franklin said he set his sights on working in Hollywood while still a teen. After graduating from USC, he worked for actor Will Smith and eventually landed at Sony Pictures as a producer of such movies as “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “Jumping the Broom.”
Franklin said hard work, determination and dedication were the qualities that propelled his success.
The free, day-long event, which was sponsored by the university, state Sen. Steven Bradford and 102.3 FM KJLH radio, featured speakers and breakout sessions that addressed such topics as health and wellness, financial literacy, employment, veteran’s assistance programs and criminal justice reform.
“As former chair of the Select Committee of Boys and Men of Color that helped create the framework of President Obama’s My Brothers Keeper, I’ve seen firsthand throughout the state the need and benefit of summits such as these,” Bradford said. “We should make it a priority to not only support with our involvement but with funding as well.”
While panels were held inside, other attending the event strolled the campus lawn where nearly three dozen booths distributed information ranging from insurance to job resources.
Michael Smith, director of educational programs at Cal State Dominguez Hills, moderated “Mentorship: Getting Men of Color to the Next Level.”
Smith said that one of the keys to success is high expectations.”We must stress to our young men, ‘You’re going to college. The question must be not ‘if’ but ‘when?’”
Smith said that during a youth mentoring program that he facilitated, he discovered that many young males were experiencing hurt and trauma from not growing up with a father in the home.
“There is psychological and emotional healing that needs to take place with our young men,” Smith said. “We need more regular people to go out and mentor our young black males. We must walk, listen and cry with them.”
Tamla Milton, a patient advocate for the My True Health Center in Long Beach, moderated “Man Up for Your Health: The Top Three Diseases that Affect Men.”
“The diseases affecting African American men the most are high blood pressure, diabetes and erectile dysfunction. All three can be attributed to diet and lack of exercise.”
Pausing, she observed, “We are 15 percent of the population, but we are number one when it comes to health disparities. Our numbers are decreasing tremendously because of the lifestyle choices we are making.”
Milton advised men to exercise three to five times per week for 60 to 90 minutes to improve cardiovascular circulation.
Milton said that following a healthy diet was equally important. Noting that fast-food establishments are notoriously prolific in the black community, she advised the audience to shun processed and fast foods.
“More than half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables instead of meat and carbohydrates. Meat should only be one-quarter of your plate,” she saidd.
With grocery stores lacking in the inner city, she said an excellent place to shop are the farmers markets scattered around Southern California where one can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable price.
Milton said that more and more men are becoming proactive about their health and are visiting the doctor on a regular basis. Where once African American men were reluctant to schedule a doctor’s appointment, Milton noted that men are visiting the doctor more frequently, since many of their friends and relatives are dying from preventable diseases.
The day ended with a popular panel entitled “Legends of the Game,” which was moderated by veteran CBS2 newscaster Jim Hill. Former athletes on the panel included Mack Calvin, who played four seasons with the National Basketball Association; Jim Cleamons, who played with the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls; Olden Polynice, who played for 15 NBA seasons including the Los Angeles Clippers; and Reggie Theus, who played for the Chicago Bulls.
“We have to help our young people. If we don’t help them, no one else will,” said Calvin, who said he is deeply involved in youth programs.
Clemons said his parents stressed the importance of a college education.
“My grandparents gave their lives for the right to vote and the right to read,” he said. “If we routinely pass on education and the right to vote, we will forfeit what our ancestors fought for.”
Theus said that athletic training will help the young athlete later in life.
“You already know what hard work and adversity is all about,” he said. “You already have the tools that corporate America wants and you have everything you need to be successful.”
But Polynice observed, “You have to look beyond the basketball courts and track. All these young people are not going to go to the pros.
“Adidas and Nike are filling their heads with hype,” he added. “We are losing our young athletes because of false hope.”