GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Public Schools administrators have partnered with city leaders to create a safe space for young Black men in the district.

Organizers said it will be a time where students will have the chance to see themselves reflected in leadership positions in the community.

Demaurion Streeter, a Riverside Middle School student, said he plans to join the virtual conference Monday. He said he will sign on to see what manhood looks like.

“I want to know how people got to where they are now,” said Streeter. “I want to learn how it is growing up in their shoes.”

Street is a straight-A student, averaging a 3.9 GPA. He said he wants to pursue a career as either a basketball player or mathematician. He will need a certain type of encouragement along his journey to success, the kind of motivation the sixth annual African American Male Achievement Conference can provide. 

It’s a part of a collaboration between the Urban League of Western Michigan, Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Valley State University and the city of Grand Rapids. This year’s theme is Challenges, Choices, and Change.

Streeter, along with his peers, will heed advice from dozens of other professional, Black men, like Ph.D. holders, engineers, educators and business owners, to name a few. They will all use their platform to inspire young Black male students. 

It’ll be the first time eighth-grade students like Streeter can join the conference, which is normally exclusive to high schoolers.

Riverside Middle School principal Nathaniel Moody was instrumental in the expansion.

“We want to grow our young men to be scholars who want to grow up with young men to be leaders,” said Moody. “We want to grow young men to be educators, and we do that by getting in front of them early on in life.”

When asked why it is important for young, Black men to see older Black men succeed, Moody said, “You don’t know what you can be unless you see it in front of you.”

That’s precisely why MUSE GR art gallery owner Stephen Smith will volunteer his time to pour into the young men.

“I feel like my job is to connect students with their future,” said Smith. “It’s not even like a give-back situation; I’m just doing my brotherly duty.”

As a big brother, Smith said he’ll always keep leading so that Streeter can one day pass the baton to his own little brother.

“I want to teach him to not make the mistakes I make and like to stay on the right path and take everything serious and learn how to become a better person,” said Streeter.

The conference will take place from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Monday.