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African American Youth Leadership Conference examines choices and consequences

By: Jesse Byrnes jesse.byrnes@gazette.com
March 8, 2014 Updated: March 8, 2014 at 10:46 pm
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Students react to an electrical current created by a Van De Graff generator during a presentation on electricity by Darryl Baynes during his session at the 2014 African American Youth Conference at Colorado College Saturday, March 8, 2014. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Local students, parents and teachers crowded in lecture halls at Colorado College on Saturday for the 22nd annual African American Youth Leadership Conference.

The event, held the past 21 years at CC, drew 427 middle and high school students for motivational speeches, music and leadership instruction.

"We need to start developing leaders as soon as we can," said Otis Campbell, who has been involved in the conference for seven years, this year as executive director.

The conference, which first targeted minority males to discuss issues of AIDS, gangs and abstinence, as well as black history, has morphed into a broader focus on choices that young people make and their consequences, Campbell said.

About 60 percent of the students that attended this year were African-American, Campbell estimated.

The conference stresses good character and habits and developing responsibility, Campbell said. Younger students learn basic science concepts, while 11th- and 12th-graders are taught civic responsibility.

"We take the classical leadership styles and interpret them so (students) know what they mean at their grade level," Campbell said.

New this year was the addition of motivational speaker Jeffrey Sapp, a Fort Carson native who was a Navy football player and All-American defensive lineman in the 1970s. He's the lead writer and speaker for "Motivation with a Beat," music-infused talks inspiring others to reach their full potential.

Much of the event included information students don't typically get in school, such as steps to fill out a job application or just taking initiative, said Tiana Longmire, 15, a sophomore at Sierra High School who has attended for three years, this year as a volunteer.

While some groups, such as Educating Students of Color, aim to help young people after they've experienced jail, Campbell said, this conference focuses on "keeping kids on track."

Last month, City Council President Keith King signed a proclamation making March 8 African American Youth Conference Day in the city.

Representatives from six school districts shared info about their programs with the 50 parents who attended adult sessions.

"I don't want everyone to think they have to go to college to be successful," said Darryl Baynes, of Wheeling, W.Va., who has taught science sessions at the event for 17 years.

"There's so many jobs out there," said Baynes of science, technology, engineering and math fields, noting many can fill necessary jobs by attending trade schools.

He used a Wimshurst machine, which produces high voltages to illustrate lightning and positive and negative electric fields.

At one point, he had several dozen sixth-graders form a large circle and hold hands, with one student placing his palm on a spherical electrostatic generator that uses a belt to generate electricity. The student put his elbow near another's, shocking everyone.

"It felt really weird," said Catalina Fern, 11, a student at Panorama Middle School, who participated in a few of the hands-on activities. She was scared, she said, but it didn't hurt.

The event was sponsored by T. Rowe Price, Colorado Technical University and District 11, among others.

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