This article originally appeared on Daily Breeze on February 21, 2019.
USC law professor Jason Harper gave some pointed advice for any job seeker.
First, make a good first impression. Offer a firm handshake. Say a few things about yourself. Ask the person about themselves.
But this was not just about getting a job. The Thursday, Feb. 21, event, “Defying the Odds” sponsored by Kinecta Federal Credit Union in El Segundo, was focused on encouraging young African American men to attend college by connecting them with professional African Americans who could help show them the way.
There has been a steady decline in African American men transitioning successfully into and through college in recent years. In 2016, African American enrollment in higher education declined by 6.6 percent in the two years prior, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
The skills shared by the 12 professionals included tools that students might not be taught in school – avoiding credit card debt, choosing a major and conducting yourself in a job interview. At one point during the event, the men even taught the students how to wear a neck tie.
De’Jon Clemmons, a senior at Leuzinger High School in Lawndale, who was among the 30 students who attended from Leuzinger, Hawthorne High School and Lawndale High School, took the messages to heart, saying he understood how important it was to network.
“It’s good to network because it can help you in the long run,” said Clemmons, who plans to attend Arizona State University in the fall and later become an anesthesiologist.
“The district is always trying to find ways to connect our students to the workforce,” said Centinela Valley Unified School District Superintendent Gregory O’Brien. “It’s a way to help our students get a leg up and a step forward in the right direction.”
Later, when addressing the students, O’Brien said opportunities like the one presented Thursday to meet inspiring professionals did not come along every day.
“Please see this opportunity for what it is,” O’Brien said. “This can change your life.”
Curglin Robertson, director of Upward Bound Program at California State University Long Beach, said what holds many students back from attending college are myths that they can’t afford it or they don’t have the grades necessary.
The Upward Bound Program works with 210 students throughout Los Angeles County on a bi-weekly basis to help them get into college.
“The idea is to motivate them, to get them the information that they can do it,” Robertson said. “If you are able to graduate from high school you will be able to graduate from college.”
Jordan Veazey, a 12th grader at Leuzinger High School, said what stuck with him was the importance of passion. Veazey wants to go into the music industry.
“You have got to have love for what you do,” Veazey said. “Because if you don’t, you’re not going to succeed. You succeed more in what you’re passionate about.”