Suffolk is used to welcoming freshmen to campus. This week the school opened its doors to freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors – high school students from Boston and around the country, most receiving their first taste of the college experience.

Gathering of Leaders

They were here for  the 12th annual Gathering of Leaders conference May 29-31, hosted by the city of Boston  and presented by the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color (COSEBOC), My Brother's Keeper Boston, and the Boston Public Schools, in partnership with Suffolk University. Taking place at the Boston Park Plaza hotel, the conference convened local leaders and educators from around the country for discussions surrounding the theme: Boys of Color: Liberated, Empowered and Educated.

"As a city leader in promoting the advancement of young men of color through MBK [My Brothers Keeper] Boston, Boston is proud to host this conference that will bring together many thought leaders for a dialogue to action for how we can best support this important work," said Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh.

Suffolk University President Marisa Kelly with Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh at the conference’s opening ceremony


The three-day conference featured keynotes, distinguished speakers, workshops, and tours of eight Boston schools. It also drew students of color from Boston Public Schools and from around the country to a concurrent program focused on young men’s academic, community, and leadership development.

Young Men’s Passage program at Suffolk

COSEBOC’s Young Men's Passage program brought 206 high school students of color together for a two-day program that included team-building activities and inspirational sessions on Suffolk’s campus.

The program also gave the young men the chance to experience college life for the first time –160 of the attendees stayed in the University’s Miller Residence Hall, eating meals in the campus cafes and meeting in the classrooms at 20 Somerset and Sargent Hall. 

"As an institution committed since our founding to access and opportunity, Suffolk is very proud to partner with COSEBOC on this important event," said President Marisa Kelly.  "We are working hard to be sure that we are providing transformational educational pathways to students of all races and backgrounds. Helping young men of color see the possibilities available to them through higher education is critically important, and doing so is part of our commitment to the city of Boston and beyond."

My Brother’s Keeper Boston Director Conan Harris invited more than 100 educators and young men representing the Boston Public Schools 10 Boys Initiative, Becoming a Man (BAM), and Sociedad Latina organizations to participate in the Passage program.

“We chose to work with local groups because we want to make sure that after these kids leave here the work continues,” said Harris.

Engagement and inspiration

The program included sessions designed to help each student identify his purpose; define and explore the concept of manhood; know more about his rights, responsibilities, and options in life; and develop a sense of community.

A lunchtime talk with William Maurice “Mo” Cowan – a former United States senator and chief of staff for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, and current vice president of Global Litigation and Legal Policy for General Electric – was emblematic of the conference, combining inspirational personal stories with candid dialogue and calls to action.

Cowan discussed his path from rural North Carolina to political and business success, and from losing his father as a teen to finding his own purpose as a father to his two sons. He stressed that “manhood isn’t a destination, it’s a lifetime journey” involving constant choices and decision-making.

When a young man in the audience asked for advice on handling the death of his own father, Cowan encouraged  him to reach out to others for support.

“Sometimes the strongest thing you can do is show someone you have a weakness and need help,” he said, noting situations in his own personal and academic life where that held true.

Cowan ended the talk by challenging each student to connect with two or three new people in the room, and to commit to staying in touch.

A lasting impact

Students stayed in Miller Residence Hall, taking in sweeping views of Boston while experiencing real campus life


“The conference has allowed me to connect with people from other communities who have similar experiences and struggles. It’s been eye-opening as we find out who we truly are and how we can overcome obstacles,” said Maneer, a high school junior.

Izmaya, a 15-year-old from Seattle, relished the sense of community he found through the Passage program. While he’s not sure what area of study he will pursue in college, he’s certain he wants to start his own business someday. He believes the lessons he learned at the conference about making connections and developing leadership skills will help him on that path.

Being on Suffolk’s campus was pivotal for many of the students, who were energized by the conference and focused on mapping out their futures.

“It’s inspirational to be in a college environment,” said Maneer. “It’s propelling me forward to see that college isn’t a distant opportunity, but a very reachable goal if you have the right mindset.”