Second annual GGC summit promotes positivity, success for young black men

Greg Smith
GGC student Greg Smith talked to the audience as part of the AAMI Summit.

Sessions on purpose, passion and authenticity were among the offerings at Georgia Gwinnett College’s (GGC) second annual African American Male Initiative (AAMI) Summit on April 26. The event, themed “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” attracted more than 200 participants and offered them a forum to discuss issues, make connections and learn from college experts and special guests about their paths to success.

The AAMI is an initiative of the University System of Georgia, launched to improve black male graduation rates in its 26 schools, including GGC. GGC’s AAMI Elite Scholars program debuted at the college in 2011. Organizers say AAMI programs provide historically marginalized students opportunities to connect, relate to and support each other during their college experience.

One of the summit’s special guests was Gilbert Young. A renowned artist, muralist, and art conservator, Young is best known for his “He Ain’t Heavy” painting, which he shared is the longest selling, most recognized work of art in Black Art history.

“It depicts a man reaching down, helping another person up,” Young said. “So, it’s about a social consciousness and I’m going to be speaking on that theme.”

Other sessions offered talks on the positive construction of black male identity, black males as transformative leaders and the need for black male teachers in the classroom. 

AAMI Elite Scholars member Greg Smith, 22 of Fayetteville, was among the students who participated in the summit. A GGC senior who majors in IT software development, Smith said Young’s talk inspired him. The positive message of Young’s talk mirrored his AAMI experiences for the past four years. As a freshman, a GGC staff member introduced him to AAMI, which he said changed him for the better.

“It’s hard going through college, especially if you don’t have as much information and you’re trying to figure out everything by yourself,” Smith said. “You have a support group to help you understand that. You don’t have to figure out everything by yourself. You have that support every step of the way.”

LJ Higgins, 25, of Bethlehem, graduated from GGC in December 2023. But he made it a point to attend the summit, grateful for the opportunities that AAMI Elite Scholars provided to him. 

“I spoke at last year’s summit and the connections I made at the event helped me to secure a data analyst internship at a company that provides up-fitting for commercial vehicles,” Higgins said. 

The experience gained at Higgins’ internship helped him land a full-time job after graduation. Today, Higgins works for an Alpharetta company that offers fleet management solutions.

“I got the job offer during my graduation ceremony,” said Higgins. “I was listening to the Commencement student speaker, who is one of my AAMI brothers, and my watch lit up. I checked the message, which turned out to be a job offer.”

With a full-time career and multiple responsibilities, Higgins still finds time to give back to the AAMI. He currently serves in an advisory capacity for the program, where he researches scholarship opportunities and provides support for his AAMI brothers.

It’s not unusual to see graduates come back to GGC to lend a hand to those in the AAMI program, according to Allen Clarke, who works as an assistant director of student center operations at GGC and assistant director of the college’s AAMI program. Clarke was pleased to see a number of those graduates attend this year’s AAMI Summit and the post-summit dinner to connect AAMI Elite Scholars with business and community members. 

He was also pleased that the AAMI Summit has grown from last year, attracting not only GGC students, but also their peers from five other Georgia public colleges, who participated in this year’s event. 

As for the program, Clarke said he hopes to see AAMI expand.

“I’d like to see the AAMI hold summer retreats where these young men can get together to reinforce their relationships and even begin to onboard new AAMI members,” he said. “I’d also like to see the AAMI become a living-learning community with spaces in housing and opportunities where AAMI students can take classes together and build those relationships in the classroom.”

But for now, Clarke said he’s proud of the students who have grown because of their participation in the AAMI. He’s proud the way AAMI members support each other and grateful for those who return to the college post-graduation to give back. To Clarke, it’s a cycle of success.

“Through this program, we’re building a community of strong young black men who will thrive.”

Download 2024 AAMI Summit gallery.



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