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Black Modesto High School Students Attend Leadership Conference

In June, Modesto students attended the 2024 International Youth Leadership Conference in Tampa, Florida.

Darnell Calvin left his Modesto home on a Tuesday morning in late June feeling tired, anxious about having to board only his second plane and a little nervous about attending the 2024 International Young Leaders Conference.

He returned from the two-day event in Tampa, Florida feeling better prepared to be a leader and mentor to other young black people.

Calvin pulled an all-nighter to study for the conference, and it paid off. “My favorite thing about the event was the quiz bowl because everyone was so nervous,” he recalled. “I was nervous too because we had to compete against teams from all over the world. But once we realized that we had studied long and hard and that we were capable of competing, that nervousness went away.”

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Calvin was one of six Modesto and 1 Stockton students to attend the IYL conference hosted by Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a historically black fraternity. He is a member of the Divine Nine, the first black fraternities and sororities in the country.

The conference was attended by 150 boys, mostly African American. The students then participated in a one-day Omega STEM Cyber ​​​​Capture the Flag event, where black youth were introduced to STEM education.

According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, in 2021, Black workers made up just 9% of all STEM workers.

“This journey has been important to me because as a mentor, I believe it is imperative to provide guidance, support, and experiences that open up opportunities — especially for Black boys — outside of their comfort zone in their local community, which helps lay the foundation for future experiences and opportunities that will positively impact their lives,” said John Ervin III, Modesto City Schools Board Chair and mMentor for Project UPLIFT.

Project UPLIFT, a Modesto-based community and after-school mentoring and education program for at-risk youth, paid $6,000 for six students—students from Davis, Beyer, Enochs, Modesto and Gregori high schools—to attend the conference.

Calvin, who will be a junior at Davis High School, said the trip was a great opportunity for young black men to show they can be leaders, network with other like-minded individuals and learn more about black history.

“STEM promotes critical thinking and increases scientific literacy,” he said. “It especially helps African Americans because we only make up 9% of STEM, so it will help diversify and create more opportunities in the workplace.”

He plans to pursue a degree in computer science at Morehouse, a historically black college in Atlanta. He also plans to play basketball there and become a leader and mentor to black youth in his community, just as others have done for him in Modesto.

“I hope other black students in Modesto experience this more than anything else,” he said. “Not only would our group grow, but we would be able to expose them to more opportunities than they’ve always been presented with.”

Taylor Johnson handles education and general assignments for The Modesto Bee. A Las Vegas native, she earned a master’s degree in journalism from the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism in New York and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nevada, Reno. She also previously worked as a substitute in the Clark County School District.