The 2nd Annual Men of Distinction Conference, held at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus, targeted high school students from inner-city Omaha. Around 150 students were hand-picked to attend, by schools or other organizations like the Omaha Housing Authority.
Dominique Agee, a Burke High sophomore said, "There's a lot of people that choose to make the wrong decisions. Or you can choose to make the right decisions, and it's just, you've just got to be smart."
Agee and others were at the conference because they are on the right track, and educators want to keep them headed in that direction. Lectures focused on staying away from trouble-makers, abstaining from teenage sex, setting goals and achieving them.
Keynote speaker, George McKenna III, was brought in from Los Angeles to drive home the message that anything is possible if you put in the time, the effort and the passion.
"You got brought here today because somebody thinks you're special,” he told the crowd which seemed to be hanging on his every word. With a combination of humor and charisma, McKenna told how he helped turn around George Washington Preparatory High School as the principal in 1979, a time when the school was one of the most notoriously violent, drug-infested schools in the nation.
McKenna’s inspiring story of getting personal with students, as well as confronting gang members and letting them know he was in charge, was the subject of a made-for-television movie featuring Denzell Washington.
Another speaker, Nicolas Aguiree, impressed upon the teenagers to set realistic goals and to follow through on them. "I was the first in my family to actually graduate from high school."
He’s now with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, working to recruit and retain students. "Me being a first generation, low income Latino student and being able to go onto college get my degree, go on to get my master's degree, things of that nature,” he said, “I'm a testament to them, saying if I can do it, you can do it."
Omaha North Junior DeJon Powell knows exactly why he and the other attendees were picked to be a part of the conference. "It’s to give us a better outlook on the opportunities that we have, as far as going to college and being successful in life."
Matthew Flemming, an Omaha North Junior who’s focused on the violin and his academics said, "It just makes you want to capitalize on what you can do, be better at it.”