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‘More Than Education’: How Four Black Men Are Navigating College

 "More Than Education": How Four Black Men Are Navigating College. Patrick Booker, Tyler Burt, Anthony Lakin, and Talon Mitchell.

ACT is delighted to feature student voices from SAAB, a dynamic organization dedicated to ensuring men of color have the support needed to excel academically, socially, and professionally through the strong bonds of brotherhood and mentorship. As a national leader pursuing equity in education, SAAB provides the blueprint for institutions striving to create more equitable communities for men of color. ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning has collaborated with SAAB for many years, including as a sponsor at its 2023 National Conference.

What are your education and career aspirations?

Anthony Lakin, double major in IT cyber security and IT application development, Missouri State University class of 2025:
One of my education goals is to make the dean’s list every semester of my undergraduate years. The streak is still alive as of this semester. One of my career aspirations is to have an internship at least every summer in college. This summer, I will intern for ConocoPhillips in their IT division. My big goal after college is to work for a Fortune 25 company like Google, Apple, or Microsoft. One step at a time, I will get there.

Patrick Booker, psychology major, Missouri State University class of 2026
I originally came into college with aspirations to take the pre-med route and go to medical school to become a psychiatrist. After having personal discussions with well-established psychiatrists and finding out all the options I have as a psychology major, my plans have slightly changed. I now plan on pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and continue to higher education.

Talon Mitchell, cell and molecular biology major, Missouri State class of 2025: I plan on graduating from Missouri State University with my bachelor's degree in Cell and Molecular Biology, then attending medical school to become a neurosurgeon.

Tyler Burt, marketing/advertising & promotion major, Missouri State class of 2026:
I keep myself to high standards and I have found that has kept me going where I want to go. I want to maintain a 3.7 GPA or higher throughout my academic career here at Missouri State University. Then I will go into advertising and promotion with hopes of earning a job at a digital advertising agency. I also know that getting there in my career isn’t something that can just be done by going to the interview, but by building networking connections right now. That is what one of my short-term goals for my career – then, landing an internship at a company in the marketing or advertising department.

What sorts of educational and cultural activities have you found most effective in helping you take full advantage of your high school and/or college years?

Anthony: International fellowship is one of several activities that have helped me take full advantage of college. It is a college ministry that has given me a different perspective on my faith. The members are predominantly international from all different countries, cultures, and religions. The great thing is that we put all those labels aside and break bread with each other. That organization symbolizes what the world can be.

Patrick: I was not involved in much in high school, and this is only my second semester in college, but SAAB has easily been the most effective outlet for my experience so far. I have met people I never would have seen myself meeting and I have gotten opportunities already that I thought would take years to acquire.

The most important and effective educational activities are clubs and organizations that align with your major and interests! They have an abundance of helpful information. Also, there are probably older students who can be your guide and help you be successful and more efficient when trying to reach your goals. In terms of cultural activities, when there are events, speakers, or celebrations on or off campus, take advantage and attend, especially if the culture is different from yours. Sometimes it's just difficult to understand the importance of others' cultures when you’ve never experienced them for yourself. But regardless of whether you can relate, a culturally conscious experience helps us create a more collaborative community. Without learning about other cultures, we would neither encounter nor recognize the benefits each culture adds to our world.

Tyler: The most effective activities are the many events that I wouldn’t have typically gone to because they were outside of my own culture. Attending events that you normally wouldn’t gives you more appreciation for different cultural groups. I started out by going to numerous Hispanic Heritage Month events. I found I became more appreciative of and educated about the many cultures that are celebrated that month.

Is there any advice you would give to education and equity advocates who seek to ensure that students of color, and Black men in particular, are able to succeed academically, socially, and professionally?

Anthony: My advice to anyone who is or wants to be a mentor is this: Just be there. All it takes is you being there when it feels like everyone has left. This is true especially with Black men, many of whom don’t have a male figure to look up to. Being a mentor is a commitment, but very worthwhile. Having one has changed my life, and I am sure it can change others. All it takes is a few people who believe in you. Once that happens, you start to believe in yourself; it just takes someone else seeing it first.

Patrick: I personally believe a focus on cultivating a culture of success for these students is the most effective way to ensure they do well throughout college. College is more than education. The social and professional experiences available to those who know about them during college are immensely important to developing one’s career. If there is a culture based on these aspects, specifically targeted at underrepresented groups on campus, the students who take part will find their own inspirations to succeed. Personal drive, I believe, is the key to long-term success.

Talon: The biggest education issue as a Black male is that it's hard to imagine yourself in a job or position when the only people you see representing that job are people who don't look anything like you. I think that’s why SAAB is an excellent organization for minority men, because we have speakers who look like us and have found success in jobs and aspirations we want for ourselves. When education and equity advocates have the chance to suggest mentors, they should consider the students' diversity and which mentor represents that diversity most accurately. That mentor can provide the student with the most effective guidance. It’s also important to remember that teaching students about various cultural and social groups has a direct correlation with preparing students to become better citizens within their own communities.

Tyler: The best advice I can give is to listen to what we’re saying. A lot of the time Black men don’t feel heard in what they are saying or needing, and it can take just that one advocate to truly listen to change his life entirely.