In observance of Black History Month, Thomas Nelson Community College will present a forum, Black Men Collegiate Conversation, Saturday, Feb. 17 at the Hampton campus in Wythe Hall.
Free and open to the public, the event begins at 8:30 a.m. with registration and the two-hour discussion starts at 9:30 a.m. featuring panelists who represent several vocations. Called R.E.A.L. (Recognizing Excellence for Academic Learning) Talk, the discussion is suitable for ages 14 and up.
The three panelists learned the importance of education at different stages in their lives. However, they all stress they key is they did learn that lesson.
Dr. Walter Turner II, 27, is a chemistry and physics lecturer at Armstrong State University in Georgia. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Georgia, and a bachelor’s of science in chemistry from Samford University.
Anthony Valentine, 32, is a student at Thomas Nelson. After completing his associate degree, he plans to attend Hampton University to pursue a political science degree. He aspires to become a United States senator. Valentine is pictured with Thomas Nelson Provost Dr. Gregory McLeod during their visit to the WAVY 10 television studio, where they discussed the event on the Hampton Roads Show.
Kenneth Davis, 38, is an exhibit planner for the National Park Service. He has a master of Fine Arts degree from The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and a bachelor of arts degree in history from Tuskegee University.
Turner, whose parents were both first-generation college graduates, related an experience from childhood that showed how seriously his family took education.
“My mom loved Ebony magazine, and she would never let me touch them,” he said. “However, there was this one assignment where I needed photos from a magazine, and the perfect picture was from one of her Ebony magazines. And she let me cut that photo out because she cared about my schooling. Those type of things as I was growing up always let me know that education was valued in the house.”
He soon learned that wasn’t the case in every house.
“To a certain extent, as a black kid when you are growing up and you decide to care about education, it’s met with a lot of hostility,” he said. “Once you get into school, your peers [sometimes] view being smart as being white, which is one of the things I hate because I feel being smart has nothing to do with race. It’s an attribute that somebody happens to have or not.”
He hopes by being on this panel, he can help change that perception.
“I feel like a lot of it is the culture amongst black people, and our opinion of education is really weighing us down. I knew that there were several black men in my class who were very intelligent. Something just happened in their life to make them feel like they didn’t need to or couldn’t [achieve], or would be looked down upon if they achieve.”
He wants to “let people know it’s OK to achieve.”
Valentine admits he didn’t take education seriously enough when he was younger. If he had, he said he might have his master’s by now.
“Education never hit me when I was in [high] school, and that’s something to this day I regret,” said Valentine, who went straight from high school into the military. “When I got out [of the military] and grew up and I matured a little bit more and I got a head on my shoulders, I said of course education is definitely the best route. ”By being on this panel, he’s “hoping to educate black and brown women and men. That’s my goal. When you see somebody that looks just like you in a position you want to be in, it has a profound effect on you, it really does.”For Valentine, education is about more than acquiring knowledge.
“The education of black men is something that is paramount, or that should be paramount, nowadays,” he said. “I came from a background where I experienced tremendous racism, and I’m sure a lot of people have. In order to combat racism, you have to combat it with education.”
Davis is the oldest panelist, and learning the value of an education also came a little later in life.
“It took me seven years to complete a B.A. degree,” he said. “My grandmother and classmate encouraged me to stop wasting time and be determined to excel.”
He said part of the reason he is on the panel is to encourage others.
“My daughter is 16 and it’s important for me to encourage the next generation,” he said. “The world is getting smarter. It’s important for everyone to stay relevant. This is not a race, age or gender situation. This is OUR responsibility to create a legacy and be a guiding light.”
He also wants to make sure it’s a true conversation.
“On this panel, I want to encourage an equal conversation and not a monologue,” he explained. “Being a father, I learned that knowledge is dialogue.”
McLeod, who is also Interim Dean of Health Professions at Thomas Nelson, along with the College's Athletics and Inramurals Coordinator Chad Smith will serve as facilitators during the event.
For more information about the Feb. 17 event, contact Thomas Nelson Communications and Marketing at (757) 825-2725.