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Patrick Smith
IU Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development

George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Thursday, October 30, 2008

IU Men of Color Leadership Conference focuses on "changing tomorrow by reflecting on yesterday"

Event also attracts students from eight states, historically black colleges

Oct. 30, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Bobby Fong, president of Butler University, and Jeffrey I. Johnson, a journalist for Black Entertainment Television and the former national youth director for the NAACP, will be among the speakers at the fifth annual Men of Color Leadership Conference on Nov. 14-15 at Indiana University Bloomington.

Bobby Fong

Butler President Bobby Fong

The student-founded conference, with the theme, "Realizing the Possible: Changing Tomorrow By Reflecting on Yesterday," is committed to uniting African American, Latino, Asian and Native American men in Indiana and elsewhere by providing a platform and a venue for effective dialogue and leadership development.

Also speaking will be Eric D. Thomas, founder and chairman of Break the Cycle, a program serving at-risk middle school, high school and college age youths since 1992.

In addition to students from IU campuses, participants expected to attend will represent universities such as Purdue University, Indiana State University, Ball State University, Ivy Tech Community College, Case Western University, the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, Eastern Illinois University, Michigan State University, Central Michigan University, Denison University, Northern Kentucky and two historically black colleges -- Morgan State University of Baltimore, Md., and Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Texas. The Monroe County Community School Corp. will send students to participate as well.

"The committee thought it would be important to reflect on the past successes and failures of men of color and reflect on what we can learn from them . . . how we can utilize each as a strength to set an agenda for the future," conference chair Patrick D. Smith said of the event.

Through previous conferences, "we have established a firm foundation from which this conference can continue to move forward," added Smith, who also directs IU's Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development. Tangible accomplishments include the establishment of the Men of Color Leadership Institute, which focuses on responsibilities, values, engagement, networking and education as the means for promoting a positive climate and attitudes on campus and beyond.

"The institute involves administrators, faculty and staff as well as students. It gives students the opportunity to interact with them outside of their normal work environment," Smith explained. "The concept is to instill those same values that you acquired through this organization and be able to give back in some respect.

"We're hoping that we're instilling not just values of education and success in that vein, but also teaching them about how to position themselves so they can create opportunities for others," he added.

A new aspect at the conference is a collaboration with IU's Center for Student Leadership Development, which will allow some students to receive course credit for their involvement. While the issues being discussed pertain primarily to men of color, anyone is welcome to attend, including women, so everyone can see how challenges are being pursued in a positive manner.

Here's more about the conference speakers:

Bobby Fong

Fong became the 20th president of Indianapolis-based Butler University in 2001. Following graduation from Harvard in 1973 with an A.B. in English, magna cum laude, and election to Phi Beta Kappa, he earned a doctorate in English literature from UCLA in 1978.

Fong taught at Berea College in Kentucky from 1978 to 1989. For his first sabbatical in 1986, he was accepted as a Fulbright lecturer to China. However, because of some political machinations going on at the time, the Chinese government canceled its participation. What initially appeared to be a setback became a career crossroads when Fong became a National Fellow and assistant program director for the Association of American Colleges in Washington, D.C.

It was there he met his late mentor Frank Wong, provost at the University of Redlands, who encouraged him to go into higher education administration. Inspired by his mentor, Fong left Berea in 1989 to become professor of English and dean for arts and humanities at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He left Hope in 1995 to accept a position as dean of the faculty and professor of English at Hamilton College, Clinton, N.Y., from whence he came to Butler. He serves on the Board of Directors for the American Council on Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Jeff Johnson

Photo by: John Ricard

Jeffrey Johnson

Print-Quality Photo

Jeffrey I. Johnson

From the hip-hop community to mainstream media, Johnson serves as a trusted voice for information and opinions to a new generation. A social activist, political strategist, inspirational speaker, executive producer and an architect for social change, Johnson is one of today's most gifted leaders in both the political and entertainment arenas.

Johnson recent was named by Source Magazine as one of the hip-hop generation's key political players. His roles as a political activist have spanned from work as senior adviser for media and youth outreach for People for the American Way to operating as the national youth director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

As a journalist for BET, he traveled on assignment to the Darfur region of Sudan 2007 and has interviewed Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir, presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Minister Louis Farrakhan. He also serves as a contributor and correspondent for XM radio, "The Dr. Phil Show" and CNN.

Johnson's commitment to fostering broad-based communication about issues related to race, politics, popular culture and socio-economics have made him an influential voice for change. In 2007, he testified before the Committee on Homeland Security regarding recovery efforts in wake of the devastation caused to the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Katrina.

Eric D. Thomas

Thomas is the founder and chairman of Break the Cycle, which assists youths in addressing their academic and personal needs by developing effective and relevant strategies and providing positive alternatives within a supportive community-based setting.

Raised on the streets of Detroit, Thomas' childhood and adolescent years were difficult. After leaving home at the age of 16, he became homeless and dropped out of high school, choosing a life of illiteracy and illicit activities. At age 18, he met a pastor who mentored him and encouraged him to complete his education, obtain his GED and attain his undergraduate degree. Thomas graduated from Oakwood College, in Huntsville, Ala., in 2000 with a degree in business management. During his college years, he served as a teacher, community-based GED program instructor and pastor.

In 2003, he accepted a fellowship to attend Michigan State University to pursue a master's degree in K-12 administration. At MSU, he also serves as an academic adviser in its Office of Supportive Services. He assisted in the developing and implementing of its undergraduate retention program called The Advantage. The program targets academically at-risk students from underrepresented populations and offers special emphasis on categories of students with graduation rates lower than that of the university average.

More about the conference:

The conference will begin on Nov. 14 at the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave. High school sessions start at 9:30 a.m. Activities for college students begin at 2 p.m. and will conclude with a reception at 7 p.m. The conference will continue the next morning at 8 a.m. Johnson will be the opening speaker on Saturday, and Fong will speak at lunch.

The deadline for registration is Nov. 7. The fee to attend the conference is $50 for university and community professionals, $25 for college students and $15 for high school students. One-day registration is $15. Sponsorships are available for IU Bloomington students. Interested students should contact the Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development at 812-855-8850. The fee includes all conference materials, the opening reception, breakfast and lunch and materials. There will be no onsite registration.

To register and for complete information, go to

The Office of Mentoring Services and Leadership Development is sponsoring the conference. Other conference supporters include the Office of the President; Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs; the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center; Groups Program; Hudson & Holland Scholars Programs; 21st Century Scholars; the College of Arts and Sciences; School of Education; Kelley School of Business; the city of Bloomington; and the Bloomington Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Editors: Media interviews are available with Patrick Smith and the conference presenters. For more information, contact George Vlahakis at 812-855-0846 or or Smith at 812-855-3540 or