For two years, the Sister2Sister Leadership Retreat has addressed issues faced by African-American women on the University of Mississippi campus and in the Oxford community. When African-American men expressed their desire for a similar event, the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement (CICCE) launched a brotherly equivalent.
Sponsored by the CICCE, the Career Center, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Office of Student Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct, the inaugural Brother2Brother Leadership Retreat for men of color was held Friday in Bryant Hall.
During the retreat, Ryan Upshaw, assistant dean of student services, and junior Kenric Wright hosted a session titled “Seat at the Table: Campus Involvement.” Different committee members discussed hypermasculinity in black men, mental health, domestic violence and sex.
National Pan-Hellenic Council President Leonard Swilley, a senior exercise science major, served on the committee and said he felt the need for an event of this nature.
“Currently, there aren’t any events on campus that are geared to young black men of color. We needed something that supported and addressed the trials and tribulations that come with not only being a man of color but also being man of color attending a PWI — predominantly white institution,” Swilley said.
Senior journalism major Terrence Johnson is the president of Men of Excellence, the largest minority male organization on campus, and he delivered the retreat’s opening remarks.
Growing up, Johnson said he never had men of color in his circle, so he felt like an outsider.
“I know there are a lot of black guys who feel like I felt — like the outsider,” he said. “I just think it’s important to have a prominent minority male presence. I think that this institution, in a lot of ways, glorifies a supremacist, patriarchal society, so I think that it is important to have men of color in prominence … Things like this are important — events, programming. All these things are important, especially in spaces like this, the University of Mississippi.”
Nearly 60 people registered for the event, which was open to faculty, staff and students.
A committee of African-American faculty, staff and students was formed to plan the retreat and provide a professional and student perspective of being a man of color at the university, according to the center’s assistant director Alexandria White.
“Of course, the mission of CICCE is to provide an inclusive space, where all students of all races, genders, sexualities, geographic have a voice, have a seat at the table,” White said.
A delegation of 20 students will visit the historic Emmett Till landmarks in Lenore and Sumner on Saturday.
“Emmett Till was about the same age as many of these young men of color when he was tragically murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman,” White said. “So, as we talk about things that are affecting young African-American males, whether police brutality, inequalities in the criminal justice system, Emmett Till is definitely a past representation of a brutal inequality of the justice system.”
Two professional staff and two graduate students will travel to Lenore with the student group. To be a part of the delegation, though, students must be registered for the retreat, for which there was a waiting list.
“We will be taking them to the courthouse where those men were found not guilty,” White said. “So, as you can see, we can correlate that to the not guilty verdict of George Zimmermann, the not guilty verdict of the policeman who killed Al Sterling, the not guilty verdict of the policeman who murdered Eric Garner. So, we hope through that trip that they will see how the past sometimes influences the future and how we can continue to make these injustices better and bring light to them in what we can do.”
As a part of the closing ceremony, neck ties were distributed, serving as a social and cultural way to further a man’s status. White said the center ordered ties for participants because many young men of color don’t have one and some of the participants learned how to tie their new ties at a ceremony after the presentation.
“Many young boys learn to tie a tie from their father. How many of our young boys don’t know how to tie a tie?” White said. “How many of our young boys have more gym shoes than professional wear? And that goes across the board; that’s for many people. We wanted to provide something that’s cultural and that they can use to further their status and their opportunities, and that’s a simple tie.”
White said the retreat is an avenue for students to interact, learn and grow from people who have similar experiences.
“As we know, men of color have a different path,” White said. “They walk through campus, they walk through life different than other people. While we are very inclusive, evolving university, there’s always things we can work on. There’s always things we can improve on.”