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To cap first year, Expanded Success Initiative convenes teens

At the year-end summit today of a city program to boost achievement among male students of color, inspirational speakers were only the opening act.

The Expanded Success Initiative Leadership Summit brought together about 400 ninth-graders from the 40 schools participating in the Expanded Success Initiative, a year-old program to direct new resources to schools with a strong record of preparing black and Latino male students for college. ESI is the main school program of the citywide Young Men’s Initiative to improve outcomes for black and Latino young men.

While the morning kicked off with a series of inspirational speakers, introduced by students from the Channel View School for Research, the bulk of the program was made up of workshops led by students.

The workshops dealt with law enforcement, political power, gender, economic issues, and culture. Most were run by students from the Performing Arts and Technology High School in Brooklyn, according to Charisse Taylor, ESI’s assistant director.

Paul Forbes, ESI’s director, told the students the summit was a deliberate effort to correct a common form of short-sightedness that adults can demonstrate.

“Often times we forget or neglect to think about what you, the student, want to see in terms of programs and opportunities,” he said.

A Bard College-bound senior from Thurgood Marshall Academy, Dariel Vasquez, bookended his speech, about making the right choices, with a powerful spoken word poem that began, “Sometimes I feel like picking up my pen is my only escape.”

Vasquez said the summit would play a significant role because it facilitated personal relationships like those that helped him succeed in school despite living in poverty and having a disabled mother. A turning point in his life, he said, was when a teacher pulled him aside to recruit him to participate in Brothers On a New Direction, a peer mediation student group for male students at his school.

“You can’t just start up a program and expect young men of color to walk in,” Vasquez said. “They need to be exposed to the options.”

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct name of the organization with which Dariel Vasquez is involved.