For Columbia students "Failure is NOT an Option"

Saturday, March 19, 2011 | 4:11 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The "Failure is NOT an Option" keynote speaker compared the students in attendance to the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team.

“If you’re a Laker, you’re not satisfied until you win a championship," said Eric Thomas, an educator and motivational speaker from Lansing, Mich. “A champion is afraid to lose; everyone else is afraid to win.”

About 400 students and community members gathered at Hickman High School for the second annual conference Saturday morning. MAC (Minority Achievement Committee) Scholars hosted the conference, and nine students on the planning committee organized the event.

The conference, geared toward minority students, focused on narrowing the achievement gap and encouraging students to push themselves to do better. It also included various focus sessions.

Some participants wore black shirts displaying a crossed out "F," symbolizing that for them, failure really wasn’t an option.

Junior Cameron Solomon said he attended despite the 7:30 a.m. start time because he wants to succeed.

Thomas said he wants to see the same kind of energy in the classroom that students put into sports.

“Why can we get out on the court and be competitive, but in the classroom we settle?” Thomas said. “If they’re giving out A’s, you gotta go for it.”

Chris Belcher, Columbia Public Schools superintendent, agreed students need to be proactive in academics.

“We can’t close the achievement gap unless you want to close the achievement gap,” Belcher said to the students.

Mary Ropp, business development officer for the Bank of Missouri, a sponsor of the conference, said the transition from a student to a good employee begins early.

“We need a work force,” Ropp said. “It needs to change here.”

One focus group, titled “To Know Where You’re Going, You’ve Gotta Know Where You’ve Been” challenged students to study important figures in black history, such as Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama, and use them as role models.

Jonnette Ford, a leader of the session, said these people worked hard so black students could walk through the front doors of a school.

“It’s our responsibility to keep that going,” Ford said.

Kuriston White, a high school student who attended the session, said she came to the event to see how it could inspire her to change.

“The bar has been set, and I’m going to go after it,” White said.

In the “Life After MAC” session, a panel of 11 former MAC scholars spoke to a group of younger students. They shared advice and their experiences in universities, community colleges and the workforce.

Jasmine Chievous, a MAC scholar on the panel, graduated from Hickman High School in 2006 and from Fisk University last spring. She is now pursuing her master’s degree from the University of South Florida and said being a MAC Scholar inspired her to succeed.

Other sections focused on engaging the community and offered students information about simplifying the college process.

Thomas said the motivation for change needs to come from the students.

“You can have it, you can be it, you can do it, but you’ve got to have the desire to want it,” Thomas said.

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