Diversity Luncheon Hosts Alumni of The Future Project

Photo by Giancarlo Sepulveda

The Diversity Convocation Luncheon in the Alumni Lounges on Wednesday provided an introduction to the Future Project, a non-profit organization used to inspire and motivate students. Gemar Mills, the luncheon speaker, is the principal at the Malcolm X Shabazz High School as well as a Future Project alumnus. Mills also brought a panel of Future Project alumni to share their stories of motivation and achievement.

Tamika Quick, assistant director of Equity and Diversity Programs and co-chair of the Diversity Action Committee, opened the luncheon with a remark on the importance of diversity in the current national climate.

“Do not allow the climate of our nation to negate our hope for unity and inclusiveness. Please continue to push for a society that strives for understanding and appreciation of differences and celebrates a shared space while we are all welcome,” said Quick.

Mills’ presentation emphasized the difference between perception and potential. He explained how the perception of what people can do or accomplish often hinders their real potential to access and achieve their dreams. Mills related this to the hip-hop industry where the gangster rapper image often covers up the academic achievements of rappers like Yo Gotti, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, Rick Ross and 2 Chainz.

Mills also related the concept to his own life. He included pictures from his childhood growing up in the projects in Paterson and described a teacher who helped him improve his SAT scores to get into college.

“She didn’t allow the perception of what she saw to be the determining factor of what I could become. When I told her that I wanted to go to college, she believed it,” said Mills. “I moved onto college and knew that I had to be a Dream Director for other people.”

With the help of the Future Project, Mills improved the proficiency and college acceptance of students at the Malcolm X Shabazz High School, which had previously faced low test scores and threats to be shut down. His achievements earned him the nickname, “the turnaround principal.”

The Future Project also developed the Science of Possibility; a system of inspiration, action and possibility thinking.

On the panel of Future Project alumni were Justice Hatterson, Nicholas Gibson and Keyla Marte. Hatterson is the founder of her own model management company and clothing brand that strives to achieve greater diversity in the industry. Gibson is now a staff member at the Future Project and opening a school for technology of the arts. Marte organized walkouts, protests and programs as a high school student when her school faced forced closures and is currently starting a nonprofit organization to promote self-love.

“The most important piece is they are real examples of people, our young people, who are embracing the concept of possibility thinking and actually getting it done,” said Mills.

The panelists discussed the struggles they faced in high school and how they found motivation through The Future Project and their personal counselors, or Dream Directors. They also explained how the principles of the Future Project carry through the rest of their lives.

“We are all bigger than our circumstances,” stressed Marte.

Mills also added the importance of seeing potential in others the way people did for him.

“If somebody didn’t have the vision that I was lacking at the young age of 16 or 17 then guess what, it’s likely you probably wouldn’t see me,” said Mills. “I challenge everyone in the room who is in a position of power to have that curiosity to want to know more about the person that you may have a poor perception about.”

“It was really great for everyone here to hear the stories of the young people and how successful they are. It really motivates you to take a step forward for your dreams,” said Domenica Alba Pazmino, senior. “Just knowing that you’re capable of doing everything that you can and you set your mind to — it was a really motivational talk.”

The Diversity Convocation and luncheon were sponsored by the Diversity Action Committee, Board of Trustees and the Office of the President.