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Youth Symposium 2010

Bridges to Our Future: The Next Generation of Leaders

Award-winning actor and bestselling author Hill Harper told students attending Wheelock's 2010 Youth Symposium to seek out people who will support their goals and dreams, such as teachers, family members, or other mentors. "No one gets there on their own," he said.

Harper was the keynote speaker as Wheelock convened its second Youth Symposium on October 25, 2010. Entitled "Bridges to Our Future: The Next Generation of Leaders," the event brought together 500 middle and high school students from Boston, Brookline, and Cambridge—from public, private, pilot, and charter schools—for a high-energy discussion about leadership, mentoring, and self respect.

All of the students completed a companion three-week curriculum created specifically for the symposium. The goal was to engage young people in becoming leaders, combating negative messages, as well as matriculating into and completing college.

To see an overview of the curriculum used for the 2010 Symposium, click here.

A focal point for the morning-long discussion was Harper's two bestselling books, Letters to a Young Brother, and Letters to a Young Sister. Several students shared their thoughts about the books and talked with Harper and the Symposium's host, Harvard Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., about how to find mentors and overcome obstacles. Ogletree was a mentor of Harper's when Harper attended Harvard Law School. Harper, who portrays Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on the CBS television series CSI: NY, holds degrees from Harvard Law School and Brown University.

Wheelock president Jackie Jenkins-Scott said the college held the event on-campus rather than at a downtown hotel because she wanted students to be able to visualize themselves going to college and succeeding. "We want you to know you belong on a college campus," she told the students.

A natural complement to Wheelock's core mission, the Symposium was designed to inspire a world of good work improving the lives and families in the Greater Boston community. It was also attended by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Mayor Menino encouraged students to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them in Boston and Kerlikowske talked about the role students could play in re-framing drug addiction as a public health problem rather than a police problem.

Legal Scholar and Award-Winning Actor Leading the Conversation

Headshot of Charles OgletreeThe Youth Symposium's host was noted legal scholar Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., the Jesse Climenko Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and founding Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice. He spoke with students about the power of service and giving of one's self. He also talked about the importance for young people of finding role models who not only set a positive example but who can also steer them away from bad choices. "We are who we are because of the people who keep us out of harm's way," he said. When asked by a student about the hardest thing he had to overcome in high school, Ogletree said it was getting over the embarrassment of doing well in school.

Hill HarperHill Harper gave the Symposium's keynote address and led the students in a discussion about overcoming barriers and maximizing their potential. His two bestselling books, "Letters to a Young Brother" and "Letters to a Young Sister," were used in the development of the pre-Symposium curriculum completed by all the attending students and will serve as a focal point for the event. Harper warned the students about what he called "false evidence appearing real." He gave as an example hip hop star Kanye West's album titled "The College Dropout," which seems to downplay the importance of attending college. Harper noted that West may have left college before graduating, but that he grew up as the son of a college professor and is hardly uneducated. "Be a critical thinker," Harper told the students.

To learn more about Harper and Ogletree, visit the Biographies page.

Why It Mattered

This event was a fitting follow-up to Wheelock's 2007 Youth Symposium, Bridges to Hope and Understanding: Exploring Truth and Reconciliation. Led by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, the 2007 Symposium inspired students to later organize their own group called SPARK the Truth. Dedicated to nonviolent, peaceful coexistence for young people in Boston, SPARK the Truth has worked with Wheelock's Pre-Collegiate Office to bring nearly 5,000 young people to events on the Wheelock Campus focused on leadership development, mentoring, social justice, academic support, coursework, and college success planning. Members of SPARK the Truth were also an integral part of planning for the 2010Youth Symposium.

To create the curriculum used by students participating in Wheelock's Youth Symposium 2010, the faculty held several brainstorming sessions with Wheelock students. In these sessions, students shared their thoughts about the challenges facing urban youth and offered some ideas about how to overcome them. The video below includes footage from the brainstorming sessions, as well as short videos created by some of the students at the various Boston area schools participating in the Youth Symposium.

Special Convocation Featuring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

In a Special Convocation held after the Symposium, Professor Ogletree Jr. received an honorary doctorate for his outstanding contributions to justice, equality, and education for all. The Special Convocation featured remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, Northeastern University Professor of Law Margaret A. Burnham, and William Rodriguez, Chair of Wheelock's Juvenile Justice & Youth Advocacy Program.

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