Almost 600 students from around the Colorado Springs area flooded the Colorado College campus on Saturday to hone their leadership skills.
By shortly after 9 a.m., those students attending the 25th African American Youth Leadership Conference were tucked away in classrooms on the downtown campus, learning leadership and general life skills during sessions that would last through late afternoon.
Despite the event's name, organizers of the annual one-day event said the Youth Leadership Conference serves kids of all groups.
"We've got almost every ethnic group represented," said Paul Prosper, an Air Force major in the management department at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
According to Prosper, the name of the conference has been preserved out of "tradition." When educators Debra and Ronald Wynn held Colorado Springs' first AAYLC at the Hillside Community Center in 1992, the event focused solely on African-American boys. The program was tailored around social problems of the time and also taught the youths black history. There were 175 attendees at that inaugural conference. AAYLC began welcoming girls to the conference in 1994.
"Now we're teaching the kids that mentors come from all walks of life and ethnicities," said Ernie Green.
Green is the AAYLC chairperson for program planning and event curriculum and teaches at Pine Creek High School in northern Colorado Springs.
Green said registration and attendance jumped this year because AAYLC started an online registration program and ramped up its in-school recruitment. According to Green, principals, counselors, teachers and other volunteers focused on five Colorado Springs-area school districts over the past several months to attract kids to the conference designed for students from sixth to 12th grade. According to the African American Youth Leadership Conference website, the event averages about 400 attendees each year.
Sessions on Saturday included programs on healthy communication, financial management, conflict resolution, bullying and several classes emphasizing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Green said the AAYLC offers STEM tracks in aviation and general science, noting that STEM is important because it "opens doors for when they're looking for a career." The high school teacher said the science track is one of the most popular at the conference, because it gets kids immediately engaged.
"Sometimes, they blow things up. Sometimes, they freeze things," Green said. "But they're always really good sessions."