CC summit seeks to inspire Colorado Springs minorities to reach for brighter future

By Liz Forster Updated: January 13, 2018 at 9:55 pm • Published: January 13, 2018 0
photo - Vivca Stewart, right, and others take part in 'Hip Hop: Discovering Your "Why" Through Dance' presented by Suavé Connxion which was held at the gym in Cossitt Hall as part of the Educating Children of Color Summit event on Saturday January 13, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)
Vivca Stewart, right, and others take part in 'Hip Hop: Discovering Your "Why" Through Dance' presented by Suavé Connxion which was held at the gym in Cossitt Hall as part of the Educating Children of Color Summit event on Saturday January 13, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)

Four years ago, Skyler McPhail had no plan for his future.

"I thought I'd barely graduate high school and go straight into the workforce," said McPhail, who attended Sierra High School.

That changed after attending the Educating Children of Color Summit, an annual gathering that encourages minority teenagers to continue their education and consider careers that might have seemed out of reach to them.

He graduated from high school early, applied to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and eventually made his way to Colorado College.

A senior, McPhail is the first in his family to attend college.

Suavé Connxion, center, leads his event 'Hip Hop: Discovering Your "Why" Through Dance' at the gym in Cossitt Hall as part of the Educating Children of Color Summit on Saturday January 13, 2018 in Colorado Springs. (Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette)  

McPhail now sits on the board of the summit, serving as a resource and role model for the 1,500 attendees of this year's summit Saturday at Colorado College.

Participants heard from more than 100 speakers about career opportunities and the college experience, overcoming discrimination to reach personal goals, understanding identity and other tools for minority students reaching for a bright future.

"The summit shows minority students that we have the opportunities and tools that allow us to go to college," McPhail said. "Most of us otherwise would have no idea that they exist."

Jada Adams, a senior at Roy J. Wasson High School, experienced a similar spark of inspiration during the conference this year as McPhail did in 2014.

"I learned that if you really put your mind to something and have the motivation to pursue it, you can really do anything," Adams said. "I didn't think that before."

Adams translated her words to actions. She not only will be attending Pikes Peak Community College in the fall but also won the $500 Ann Delores Scott Memorial Scholarship at the summit.

The summit is the project of Regina Walter, the chair of the summit's board and an El Paso County judge. In 1995, she attended a workshop on disproportionate minority confinement, which served as the catalyst for a career-long goal to use education to help keep minority and poor kids out of the "cradle-to-prison pipeline."

In 1997, Walter formed the Disproportionate Minority Confinement Task Force in Colorado Springs, which today is the 4th Judicial District Minority Overrepresentation Subcommittee of Best Practices Court.

Since 2008 the subcommittee has presented the summit for students, parents, teachers, counselors, juvenile justice professionals and children's advocates.

"Our motto is 'You can't be what you can't see,'" she said. "If we expose kids to professionals - judges, scientists, attorneys, pilots - who look like them, then they can start to believe they too can be in those roles."

The effects of the program's successes extend past the students, the institutions they attend and the workplaces that employ them.

Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler, who delivered opening remarks at the summit, said the achievements of these students is a reflection of the prosperity and image of Colorado Springs.

"Getting kids to college is important for all of us in the community," Tiefenthaler said. "Generally a more educated population is a healthier, economically stronger and more civically active community."

At the end of the day, McPhail simply wants to help lead minority students toward a better life.

"My goal is to give back to other minority students," he said. "It's an amazing feeling to see the light shine in their eyes."

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