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Published: Sunday, 2/1/2004

Minority youth conference stresses overcoming obstacles

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tommy Gaston, 13, left, shares his career goals with David Paraham, right, a former member of the Toledo Excel program who graduated from the University of Toledo in 2001. Tommy Gaston, 13, left, shares his career goals with David Paraham, right, a former member of the Toledo Excel program who graduated from the University of Toledo in 2001.
ZAPOTOSKY / BLADE Enlarge

Toledo Mayor Jack Ford stood before a roomful of students, parents, and educators and compared life to a rousing game of dodge ball.

“You will be hit by that ball sometimes, you can t avoid it,” he said. “But what you have to do is overcome it and keep moving. If you get knocked down, you get up.”

Mr. Ford, Toledo s first African-American mayor, shared his success story with more than 1,000 people at yesterday s annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth. The free event, now in its 20th year, explored the theme, “Rising to Excellence - Overcoming Social and Economic Barriers to Success.”

“Just about everyone has something to overcome,” the mayor said. “You and I can get through anything if we just keep moving forward.”

That message hit home to Matthew Carter, an eighth grader at Jones Junior High School in Toledo. Acknowledging that his career goals included being a basketball player or recording artist, the 14-year-old said he may spend more time off the basketball court and with his textbooks.

“I wanted to learn about different careers so I can know for farther down the road,” he said.

Shawnise Simmons, 13, is a member of PrepTech, the precursor to Toledo Excel. A seventh grader at Englewood Peace Academy in Toledo, Shawnise said she came to the early morning event “to know that I can do anything.”

Yesterday, students also got a chance to talk to former Excel students, now all flourishing in successful careers. Nichole Jackson-Nauden, a tax commissioner s agent with the Ohio Department of Taxation, was a part of the original group of Excel students. She shared stories about her career and the path that she took to get there.

“Excel helped me experience things I may not have been able to experience through my parents,” she said. “I traveled to places and met people that my parents would just never have thought to expose me to.”

Dean Hall of Toledo sat with his 13-year-old son, Bradley, in the University of Toledo s student union yesterday. Although excited by the messages he heard, Mr. Hall said he was concerned that those parents who attended the conference weren t the ones that needed to hear its message.

“My children know that college is a rite of passage, that it s expected of them,” said Mr. Hall, who is currently working toward a master s degree at Bowling Green State University. “The message he hears here is the same one that he hears at home.”



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