Preparing students of color for their first year at college

Jun 27, 2018

Say Yes Buffalo is holding its ‘Countdown to College’ kickoff. Say Yes Scholars have been attending a two-day event of workshops to prepare for navigating college.  WBFO’s senior reporter Eileen Buckley met with one of the keynote speakers who guides underserved students of color.


Say Yes Buffalo scholars attend Countdown to College workshops inside the WNED studio.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Students who recently graduated from Buffalo Public and city charter schools are learning about heading to their first semester of college this fall. 

The Say Yes students were given a lesson about perseverance and taking the leap into college.

Tommy McClam is director of Boys and Men of Color at Say Yes.  McClam delivered a humor-filled speech about staying in college. He asked a student volunteer from the audience to leap from two chairs – explaining how students will have the support provided by the Say Yes program, despite any obstacles or personal difficulties they may face.

“But those supports we are talking about – those will be with you all the way through the process,” declared McClam as he spoke to the students.    

Tommy McClam, director of Boys and Men of Color at Say Yes, demonstrates with students how they will be supported in college.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“It can be very nerve wrecking also a scary situation to go from high school to college, even more so when a lot of our student income from low income families and they’re first generation college students and so it’s just something that is totally unfamiliar to them,” remarked McClam.  

McClam offers advice on what it’s like to enter a college campus as a student of color.

“Part of this is also showing that you can move to college from the City of Buffalo and so often Buffalo’s taken such a bad rap on everything else, so when young people start seeing a little bit bigger then the bad rap and they can actually not only do they excel, but come back to their same community and make a difference,” McClam explained.

“I think it really put an emphasis on being resilient even in the time of adversity,” said Say Yes Scholar Nina Morse. She is headed to SUNY Fredonia to duel major in English and theater arts and Gabe Carr-Johnson is going to be a communications major at Keuka College.

Say Yes students attend Countdown to College in WNED studio.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“It motivated me a lot – like to do better in life and you know to be always be something great – no matter what,” Carr-Johnson replied.

“What will be new for you and what do you worry about?” Buckley asked the students.

“What’s new for me is like being on my own and not having somebody there to always make sure I’m doing good, but I’ve got to make sure for myself I’m doing good – that’s going to be something different for me. My parents went to college, so they know what it’s about, so they’re just here motivating me while I’m here, for now,” responded Carr-Johnson.

“I am actually like first generation of going to compete – so I’m really looking forward how that message in there is going to help me be more independent and self-sufficient,” Morse replied.  

McClam tells us students should make sure students understand if they are racially profiled, while on a college campus, they should deal with it “constructively” and not in a “negative” manner. 

“What is a challenge for a young man of color, that when he enters a campus, he has to face?” Buckley asked.  

Tommy McClam, director of Boys and Men of Color at Say Yes.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“Are there discrimination issues – yeah- I think it’s always going to be there. Is there a just a diversity issues of understanding where they fit in is there, but I think part of it is kind of ‘switching the code’ – understanding what I did at home and now I have to learn a new system and then, not only do I have to learn that system, I have to learn how to operate in both systems because I don’t lose who I am – not losing who you are, but understanding that you have to adapt for the different environments you find yourself in,” McClam answered.  

Students will attend the final day of college workshops Wednesday, including a session with a Buffalo Police officer explaining how students should interact with law enforcement.