Harambee Conference Conjures Confidence in Prospective Students

  • Students walk through the USU while on a tour.

    Harambee Conference tours of the CSUN campus take local high school students through the USU, on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Lee Choo.

  • Debra Hammond, executive director of the USU, speaks to students on stage.

    Students at the Harambee Conference listen to Debra Hammond, executive director of the USU, on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Lee Choo.

  • Students stand in line and grab their CSUN bag.

    High school students at the Harambee Conference receive CSUN bags and other items, on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Lee Choo.

  • Vera Hampton speaks to tenth graders at the Harambee Conference's "College Knowledge" seminar, on Feb. 25, 2020. Photo by Lee Choo.

Attending and graduating from college almost seems like a given for many young Californians, yet young, black students are less likely to graduate from college compared to their peers.

In the continuing push to recruit, retain and graduate more black students at CSUN, the university hosted its 15th Annual Harambee High School Conference on Feb. 25, with more than 300 Southern California high school students in attendance.

Swahili for “let us pull together,” Harambee takes place during Black History Month and is hosted by the Harambee Council and the African American community at CSUN. It’s designed to engage young African American high school students and promote the idea that they can equally access higher education and succeed at the university level, while receiving guidance and mentorship from professional educators.

“So, pretend you’re already in college,” said Debra Hammond, executive director of CSUN’s University Student Union, during her opening remarks to the students. “Because that’s the vision I see. This is about aim.”

Students from schools such as California School for the Deaf, Riverside; Frederick K.C. Price High School; and El Camino Real Charter High School listened intently to Hammond as she painted a vision of future success for the teenagers.

“We have an expectation that you will aim high,” she said. “Aim high. That’s what we want for all of you. We’re here because we know what you’re capable of doing. We just want you to show us, and then we’ll be here. We’re going to help you. We’re going to support you. We’re going to challenge you. We’re going to give you some expectations. But we are here to help support you and help you win.”

Students took this message in stride as they participated in a variety of activities such as touring the campus, attending workshops, meeting professional educators and more. Tenth graders attended the “College Knowledge” seminar, where they learned about a plethora of college- and admission-related information.

The seminar included topics such as financial aid, the community college route, CSU-specific information and general guidance and life tips. Vera Hampton, associate director of Student Outreach and Recruitment, led the seminar.

“I don’t want you getting tunnel vision,” Hampton said. “Always be thinking of how you can get involved [on campus]. How you can go outside your comfort zone, because that leads you into your path of life, and you never know where your path is going to take you.”

The high school students were given the chance to speak on stage about their personal path, as well as their conference experience following the “College Knowledge” seminar.

One student expressed interest in American Sign Language and was excited to learn that Deaf studies is a major option at CSUN. Another student expressed appreciation for the conference because it made her aware that the college application process is important and that she needed to start as soon as possible, she said.

Arsema Solomon, a student at El Camino Real, showed interest in attending CSUN after the seminar, noting that her Harambee Conference experience made her eager to apply to CSUN. Solomon said she’d like to pursue a career in child development, and she hopes to follow that dream through CSUN.

“My brother has autism, and he always has [aides] coming and working with him,” Solomon said. “I see myself doing that and working with other kids.

“I’ve been wanting to go to CSUN since I was 5,” she continued. “I live really close — it’s going to be easier for me, and I just find myself attracted to the school.”

Solomon wasn’t the only hopeful high school student attending the conference. Usaamah Edwards from the California School for the Deaf, Riverside was equally excited about going to college, becoming a chef and owning his own restaurant someday.

“It’s my passion. I’m a creative person. I want to mix my creativity with owning a restaurant,” Edwards said.

The Harambee Conference brought to light the benefits of college for Edwards. This was his first time on the CSUN campus, and he’s interested in transferring in after community college, he said.

“[The conference] benefits me a lot because not only do I identify as a black person, but it gives me some leadership skills,” Edwards said. “I see other black leaders and I see other students, so it’s great.”

“Because of them, I am here,” was the main theme for the colloquia sessions that took place for the high school juniors that attended the conference. Some of these students are currently in the process of filling out and submitting applications to attend CSUN. Several university faculty and staff spoke with the soon-to-be college students regarding college and the application process.

The Harambee Conference also included a separate event for local community college students, attracting nearly 50 students from Los Angeles Pierce, Los Angeles Harbor, Los Angeles Valley and Pasadena City colleges to CSUN on Feb. 28.

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