Saturday, September 15, 2001

Students celebrate education

Despite cancellation of speakers, summit goes on

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Hundreds of Greater Cincinnati students came together Friday to celebrate the power of education.

        “We can succeed,” they chanted, as an array of speakers stressed respect, hard work and achievement despite obstacles.

        “You can do whatever you put your mind to. No matter where you're from, you can achieve,” said Monique Ajunwa, 17, a senior at Woodward High School.

        More than 800 students — mostly from Cincinnati Public Schools — attended the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati's second annual Education Summit 2001 at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center downtown.

        “We do this at the beginning of the year to really send the message that achievement matters,” said Sheila Adams, president of the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati. “That it's really a good thing to be smart, to achieve, to get good grades.”

        While keynote speakers U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and actor Malik Yoba (New York Undercover) canceled their appearances because of this week's terrorist attacks, the show went on.

        “We mourn with everyone around the country, but we wanted to follow what President Bush has asked us to do and that is carry on,” said Ericka Copeland, summit coordinator and director of the Urban League's Campaign for African-American Achievement.

        In a variety of workshops, seventh- through 12th-graders got lessons on overcoming barriers, setting goals and striving for excellence, sprinkled with drug, violence and dropout prevention messages as well.

        “I hope that everybody brings back these positive messages to the rest of their school districts,” said Sandrea Pretlow, 12, an eighth-grader at Vail Middle School in Middletown.

        Harun Shabazz, 13, of Burton Elementary School, said he got the message.

        “You won't make it in life without an education,” he said. “And I'm going to be successful.”

        Dennis Rahiim Watson, president of the National Black Youth Leadership Council, stepped in for Mr. Yoba as Friday's keynote speaker, traveling via bus from New York.

        “Whatever we do in America, we've got to return to class and dignity,” Mr. Watson told students. “Treat each other like kings and queens. If we don't want others to be racist and discriminatory against us, we shouldn't be that way toward each other.”

        The summit targeted parents as well. The three-day event opened Thursday night with a Parent Empowerment Forum, where about 750 parents filled Christ Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Walnut Hills. About 150 parents attended workshops on Friday, ranging from school safety to parent involvement.

        Ruth Logan, a College Hill mother of two, said the summit will benefit the entire community.

        “This is not just a one-day session,” she said. “It promotes dialogue in the community, small steps at a time.”

        The summit concludes this morning. About 500 youths are expected back at the convention center for a rally and lecture with the Tuskegee Airmen.


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