GRCC alum to give keynote speech at Latino Youth Conference

GVL / Courtesy - GRCC

GVL / Courtesy – GRCC

Tasman Mattox

Local middle school students will have the opportunity to hear from Grand Rapids Community College alumnus Sammy Publes about dream-following, diversity and inclusion at the Latino Youth Conference. The GRCC-sponsored event is set to occur Tuesday, March 6, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in GRCC’s Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse. 

The Latino Youth Conference is now in its 19th year and hosts more than 800 eighth-grade students from the Grand Rapids area.  

“The original idea was to inspire and motivate our Latino students to reach for academic excellence,” said Domingo Hernandez-Gomez, director of GRCC’s Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion and one of the event organizers. “For many of them, this is a way out of poverty and a way to reach for their dreams.” 

Sammy Publes, the keynote speaker, was born in Cuba and moved to Grand Rapids as a youth. 

“Grand Rapids has always been my second home. This is where I grew up,” Publes said. “For me, it was a great experience. When I moved (away) and started to grow intellectually, I wanted to come back and help my community.”

Publes is an actor and has appeared in various television shows and movies. He runs a nonprofit theater program that produces unique and diverse plays. 

“Mixed Roots Collective is kind of the concept of, ‘Don’t wait for others to write your story; just take control of your future,'” he said. “I wanted to do plays that weren’t popular and maybe controversial. We’ve been able to do four plays in the past four years. Every play makes a statement, whether it’s about art or social justice.”

Publes wants students to know they have many resources at their disposal that generations before them did not have.

“I think for Latinx, the time has never been better for you to succeed,” he said. “There are so many support systems. You just have to get out and get it. I’m there to remind you a lot of people died for you to have this right, so you can’t squander it. We have to be unapologetic and intentional in the way we use it.”

The conference itself is an all-day affair with a breakfast, keynote speech and workshops.

“The students attend breakout sessions with multiple topics,” Hernandez-Gomez said. “Themes are anything that has to do with self-development. This year, we have 22 sessions. They make it fun.”

The sessions will have a variety of unique focuses.

“In each session, the goal is to teach them a skill,” Hernandez-Gomez said. “From those technical skills to inspirational, there is a variety of sessions. In some sessions, they may meet someone who has struggled to be where they are. Kids can be inspired by that and know that they can achieve.”

This year, more motivational workshops have been incorporated into the conference.

“Traditionally, we’ve concentrated on skills of success, but we also realized that a lot of what’s going on politically and culturally that a lot of our students have challenges that have to do with just the integration of intersections,” Hernandez-Gomez said. “We want to address things like self-confidence, cyber bullying and body image. If they’re not okay with themselves, how do we expect them to succeed?”

Publes said that most of all, he hopes to excite and encourage the students.

“I hope to get close with my words, give a call to action for the Latino students who are under attack with immigration and stereotypes,” he said. “I hope to call for them intellectually and physically to be the change they want to see.”