Young Men of Color Symposium

Students Attend Symposium Saturday, November 12


Photo credit: Nick Saracino

Students and faculty pose at the Young Men of Color Conference.

The Cullen J. Davis Young Men of Color Symposium is an annual citywide conference for male students of color hosted by Parker. Each symposium features a keynote speaker who embodies diversity and forward thinking about race. The symposium also features workshops for the purpose of teaching students “how to create and sustain courageous, safe spaces within their school and beyond,” according to the Parker website.

The Young Men of Color Symposium started when Justin Brandon, former Head of the Upper School at Parker, was close friends with the founder of Beyond Fear, an organization that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion. They are based in New York City and hold a similar symposium there every year.

Brandon decided to bring the symposium to Chicago, as well, involving Parker and its affinity groups in the process. He has since left the Parker community, but the symposium has continued.

The symposium is planned in part by MCHA (Men of Color Heritage Affinity), a space for students who identify as men of color. 

Senior Payton Pitts, one of the MoCHA heads, helped to plan the symposium.“You have to think about what unites all students of color across all cities and states,” Pitts said, “The main emphasis during planning was making sure that the focus and the discussion prompts could be relatable.”

Pitts, along with other heads and members of MoCHA, aims to create a space for students of color at the school. “It’s a community, especially within the context of this school. It’s students who are connected to each other, feel supported, and can ask each other for assistance,” Pitts said.,“There’s no burden on anyone when we’re around each other.”

“It’s a place for students of color to get together and hang out,” sophomore SoCHA (Students of Color Heritage Affinity) member Simone Shonuga said of her affinity group, “because we need representation.” Though SoCHA is for students of all genders, they have the same goals as MoCHA does.

Along with hosting the symposium, MoCHA goes on field trips, facilitates current events discussions, and hosts fundraisers. “One goal we have is to showcase our group more to the entire school. Like having an MX last year, we want to do more of that,” Pitts said.

“The goal of MoCHA is to have a safe, affirming, and meaningful space for young men of color,” Sven Carlsson, Middle and Upper School Director of Studies And faculty sponsor of MoCHA said, “so that they can see themselves reflected in the people around them.”

The symposium itself is a series of discussions and workshops facilitated by trained adults. The schedule this year included a keynote speaker, two group discussions, a panel of senior attendees, and finally a big closing meeting. The schedule in previous years has been similar, but some things change year to year.

This year, the keynote speaker at the symposium was Carlos Andrés Gómez, a Colombian-American author and spoken word poet, who also hosted an MX the same week. The group discussions were divided by grade then by what race the students identified as.

“The goal is to draw students from multiple schools in the Chicagoland area who typically go predominantly white schools, to get them together to see the strength of support and brotherhood. To have them affirmed in their racial identity,” Carlsson said.

The symposium, a meaningful and safe space for men of color, continues to be an important event for Parker, the school where diversity is celebrated and encouraged.

“I had a great time, and I think the students did as well,” Carlsson said.