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The ‘seeds’ of African American leadership at Matthews Arena

Photo by Mike Mazzanti.

A group of nearly 300 teens representing the best and brightest of the African American community in the United States are at Northeastern University this week for the National Urban League’s Youth Leadership Summit, which kicked off Tuesday night at Matthews Arena.

“When I look out and see you, I see the future of the Urban League movement,” said Darnell Williams, the CEO of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, speaking at the welcome event. “If I had an apple in my hand, and I cut it in half, I know we could all count how many seeds we’d find. But how many CEOs are in those seeds? How many leaders? We’re getting old, and we’re looking to you.”

The 22nd annual Youth Summit was held in conjunction with the National Urban League’s annual conference, being held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. It is the first time the annual conference has been held in Boston since 1976, when the city was in the midst of the school busing upheaval. Participants this year came from 37 cities across the United States, including Boston, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Detroit and Houston.

Throughout the week, events and activities will stress the summit’s theme of, “Education: The Foundation for Every Occupation.” On Friday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will speak to the group at Matthews Arena about the importance of science, technology and math education (STEM) and Northeastern’s Center for STEM Education has organized activities in more than a dozen laboratories and research centers across Northeastern’s campus.

Among the event’s first speakers was Imani George, a Boston resident who is about to begin her freshman year of high school. She said that adults need to support the next generation of black leaders, but that the ultimate responsibility for success lies with the youth themselves.

Speaking to her peers, George said, “We begin by acknowledging, and accepting, that the ultimate responsibility for success or failure in our life relies with us. We need to be active participants in our education, because no matter how much support we get from people around us, none of that will matter if we don’t have the strength to work hard.”

Robert Gittens, Northeastern’s vice president for public affairs, said he was glad to welcome the group to Northeastern and encouraged each attendee to seriously consider their future in higher education, the best way for someone to prepare for a future solving local and national problems.

“We have some critical challenges ahead of us and we need you young people to take the lead in solving those problems,” Gittens said. “We need your talent, we need your vision, and we need your leadership to solve these problems. And that is where places like universities come into the equation. We want to be there to support you, to give you the education, the skills and the real world experience so you’re in the position to step into your leadership roles.”

The youth summit runs through Saturday, July 30. The National Urban League Conference, an annual event held in a different city each year, addresses social, political and economic issues through dialogues with national and community leaders; the focus of this year’s event is jobs and unemployment — especially among minorities — across the United States.