This past Saturday, some of Rochester’s most successful and accomplished men packed the Blue Cross Arena. They were there for Distinguished Gentlemen, an annual networking event hosted by the Mayor’s Office. It provides a unique opportunity for localyuong men to meet accomplished men from different professions and all walks of life, allowing them to be inspired or even make tangible professional connections.
Checking in at the door, the various educators, financial advisors, marketing gurus, spiritual leaders and community advocates confirmed their names on the guests list and entered the atrium on a personal mission to use their career and professional skills to give back.
I confidently walked into the main doors, reporting for OM but also personally interested in the event this year. I introduced myself at the check-in table. To my surprise, I learned that I didn’t have access; my name was not amongst the distinguished gentlemen. I went into “I must get into this incredible event” mode and began to explain that I was there representing OM to feature several young men that I planned to network with and capture their opinions about the event.
After several attempts, I tried another approach. I figured my status as a distinguished member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. might help, especially considering the local chapter was on the friends and sponsor list. She recognized my affiliation but still, couldn’t allow access. Lastly, I asked if it was possible to communicate with the event coordinator to allow OM access into the event. I patiently waited and after about 10 minutes of slight begging, I was granted access (thank you Tracey Miller).
I put the unfortunate experience behind me, walked into the atrium and was immediately greeted by several professionals and young men I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years. Every way I turned, I recognized a former student or community partner and was immersed in positive dialogue about the importance of the event, the hard work of men in or community and the Mayor Office’s commitmentto encouraging this success.
First, I ran into my very own mentee, Kwann Moore. I met Moore while teaching at Leadership Academy for Young Men in 2014. Moore is 20-years-old and currently studying sports management and business at Monroe Community College. He said he was excited to be in the presence of so many successful men and made a timely joke about him being more distinguished than his very own mentor because he was on the guest list.
“Putting all jokes aside, this is an opportunity for me to meet some pretty cool people and develop much needed relationships to help me on my journey to become a leader in the world of sports,” said Kwann.
Then, I ran into seventeen-year-old Dezmir Phelps, a drama major at School of the Arts who will walk the stage this Friday at the Auditorium Center. Phelps is planning on attending MCC in the fall to study business administration. Phelps shared his dreams of becoming a restaurant owner, saying:
“I want to be known for preparing all kinds of dishes for the community. This opportunity gives me a head start on building relationships for my business.”
Thomas Morann III and Le’Onte Clark also attended the event, coming with their mentor from Rochester’s PathStone organization, Mr. Nathaniel Owens. Morann is passionate about photography and has managed to develop a list of clients in as little as five months.
“I’m passionate about displaying good things in good folks,” said Morann. “This is what I focus on with my photography.”
Clark currently attends the New Beginnings school and will graduate next year. He sincerely expressed the reason he believes he’s important to this community.
“I love astrology and plan to go to college to teach in my community,” he said. “I also love to inspire people and want to live a life of motivating others to be great.”
I walked around the room to check out the different vendors providing resources and services for the young men and stopped at the Monroe Community College table because I recognized another familiar face. Another former student was standing tall and proud, managing the MCC table as a Peer Navigator. Kyrren Love, 18, is a liberal arts major at MCC is working towards graduation and plans to attend RIT in another year to work towards a liberal arts degree.
“I’m interested in computer technology and have to find the right avenue for me to leave out of college making at least sixty thousand dollars annually,” Love said. “This event just might connect me to the person who will hire me in the future”.
My last encounter was with Manh Nguyen, 19, of Greece. Nguyen is also walking the stage this week. For Nguyen, The Distinguished Gentleman event is extremely important for him.
“Meeting these men will allow me access,” Nguyen said. “I’ll be able to depend on some of these same men to help me as I work my way through college.”
Nguyen stood out to me. He stayed in the venue up until vendors were packing up and servers were clearing tables. It seemed as if he wanted every bit of motivation the event provided. He shared with me his desire to be a nurse and his commitment to learning from all of the men he connected with that evening.
“I made sure to connect with everybody who might be able to help me as I prepare to be a success story,” said Nguyen.
While I didn’t make the Distinguished Gentleman esteemed guests list, fighting to be admitted into the venue to hear from the beneficiaries of this event made every minute of begging for entry at the main door well worth the wait. For me, it’s a story for the books—the constant fight to receive access to opportunities is something that isn’t unfamiliar to a distinguished gentleman. No matter how distinguished one is, when your set to accomplish goals and presented with obstacles, you have a choice to give up or figure out a way to make it happen.