David A. Fullard Date: 04/23/2015 10:15am
Students, faculty and alumni leaders of the SUNY Empire State College Black Male Initiative met on April 16 with former NYS Assemblyman Karim Camara, recently selected by Gov. Cuomo to head up a new $50 million state program in the NYS Office of Homes and Community Renewal, focusing on faith-based initiatives. Camara will oversee grants to nonprofits to help with jobs creation and affordable housing programs, especially for those most in need. As described in Cuomo’s 2015 Opportunity Agenda, this new program will partner with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Children’s and Family Services, Housing and Community Renewal, State Nonprofit Coordinating Unit and Empire State Development Corporation, “to help communities deliver services and combat the root sources of poverty.”
First elected to the Assembly in 2005, Camara represented District 43, serving approximately 120,000 constituents residing in parts of Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts and East Flatbush, Brooklyn. He chaired the Assembly’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus and was vice president of strategy and development for MayByrd Media since 2007. Camara continues to serve as pastor of the Abundant Life Church, where he has been since 2010, a “casual, nontraditional church” with “a strong focus on ministering to urban communities and… the hip-hop generation.” Camara stepped down from elected office to serve as deputy commissioner and executive director for the new faith-based initiative. Cuomo described him as the “perfect” choice for this position, helping nonprofit organizations apply for grants and coordinate with each other for funding sources.
The purpose of the meeting between BMI and Camara was to provide him with information about BMI’s mission, current and future efforts, as well as to solicit his support for Empire State College and the BMI program through information about and introductions to appropriate public and private funding sources. The BMI leadership also asked what they could do to support Camara in his new position, such as speaking about the black male community in relation to higher education and retention issues.
Founded in 2009 and based at Empire State College’s Manhattan office, BMI focuses on retention through graduation as the No. 1 goal. The program offers support and solutions, from registration to graduation, for black male students, including a scholarship, at-risk student outreach, peer coaching, support group meetings, career counseling, panel discussions and events related to the black community and student and alumni networking. The meeting was organized by the college’s Assistant Professor and Faculty Mentor David A. Fullard, faculty advisor for BMI and a member of the Empire State College Foundation board of directors. Fullard was joined at the meeting by student Larry Johnson, a past representative on the Empire State College Council and current president of BMI; student Omar Richards, vice president of BMI; and Jay Marshall ’06, ’08, founding member and peer coach for BMI and a past member of the Empire State College Council. According to Fullard, group members described their connection to the program and a brief history of the organization, providing Camara with documents about BMI’s work and mission. Collectively, they explained that BMI was inspired by personal stories and media attention to the challenges faced by black males trying to complete a college degree. BMI’s goal is to assist in rigorous education of its members and to increase both retention and graduation rates for black male students.
The group also outlined the support mechanisms provided by BMI outreach for at-risk and other students, and their efforts in organizing club activities. Dr. Fullard also stated the organization maintains a strong foundation by instilling a “pay it forward” mentality among individual members of the group. Fullard reported that the group asked for Camara’s help to “increase exponentially the visibility of BMI at Empire State College/SUNY by spreading the word to his wide range of constituents about what ESC offers in academics and what BMI offers in increased rates of retention and graduation via direct support and targeted outreach to students.” Richards states, “It was enlightening and refreshing to speak to Karim Camara. [He is] an intelligent and diligent person, dedicated to his public responsibilities.” Johnson noted that “the meeting was another step to bringing [BMI] closer… to being taken more seriously. As we become more known in the community at large, the more good we can do. The dynamics have changed for the black man in America and the connections made on the inside can prepare [members] for connections on the outside. BMI is a great start to prepare for those outside connections. I see great things for the future of BMI as a result of this meeting.”
Marshall described the meeting as “extremely positive and inspiring.” He went on to report, “Mr. Camara gave us an opportunity to share the story of the Black Male Initiative at Empire State College and our hopes for the future. In turn, Mr. Camara spoke about his recent appointment by Gov. Cuomo to head up faith-based initiatives and his responsibilities in this new position. Mr. Camara offered us suggestions that could be beneficial to our organization, and we offered to be of help to his work, where possible. Most importantly, we agreed to maintain a dialogue and open lines of communication moving forward. I left the meeting with the sense that the BMI has an ally who knows the importance of its success. My thoughts are that Mr. Camara’s work and ours are similar: We all stand for the well-being of the middle class, but our utmost concern is offering an opportunity, a pathway and a vision of success for those who want to improve the circumstances of their family and community.”
As a result of the meeting, Fullard said that Camara is now the newest BMI “community member” — individuals in the community who support the work of the organization. Camara agreed and acknowledged the importance of informing the public about the range of services offered by BMI at Empire State College. Camara clearly understands why it is important to get the word out about BMI, noting that one of the causes of lower retention rates is a lack of support for the neediest students, and that BMI directly addresses this critical issue. Finally, Camara agreed to present at Empire State College’s Brooklyn location, his home borough, describing his new post as deputy commissioner and what the program’s anti-poverty initiatives can offer to the Brooklyn community. This event will be sponsored by BMI; details will be posted as they are confirmed.
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