When you ask people why they came to Wagner, answers are always different. Common answers might be “sports,” “money,” “the city,” or “uhh, I honestly don’t know." You never hear “diversity” or “inclusivity," but maybe that’s because the programs that work towards a more diverse campus and community don’t get the publicity they deserve. I've had the pleasure of getting to know a multifaceted leader on this campus, Kemani Howard, who, to me, embodies the characteristics and passions that continuously drive this campus into a more diverse and respectful direction. When asked why he came to Wagner, senior psychology and government double major, Mr. Kemani Howard of Rochester, NY, responded, “honestly, football." However, his initial reason did not define his time on campus.
Since his arrival to campus, he has involved himself in a multitude of clubs. Some of these clubs include Student Choice and Student Voices, Track & Field, Black Student Union, and the LEAD Academy. He also ventured overseas with Wagner's Alternative Winter Break to Ghana to serve the community through building schools and community work. It wasn’t until a Race Summit that I truly realized the extent to which Wagner works towards social justice issues, creating a more diverse campus community. It was at this event that I heard Kemani speak about the Staten Island Eagle Schools Program.
The Staten Island Eagle Schools Program is a partnership with the Eagle Academy Network which works with black and Latino ninth-grade boys in the Greater New York City area. Through the LEAD Academy, which Kemani is a co-leader of along with Kaela Teele, Wagner has built a relationship with this network where black and Latino men of our campus “step in as mentors.” On Saturdays, there are workshops at various schools that focus on an array of topics, one being personal values and respect, as well as their effects. The Eagle Academy was put in place to help combat the prison pipeline, which stretches across seven zip codes that create the majority of the prison population.
“Our roles as mentors are not to stop anybody but its to give a different perspective.”
Having men of color and all different backgrounds take time from their lives on campus provides these boys with support systems and role models they might not have otherwise had. Kemani brought to light that these young boys don’t always have an older brother or father to look up too and they often don’t have the time or support to play sports or find themselves in extracurriculars.
“I need[ed] to know what I am going to do when I graduate,” Kemani said. So, he reached out to Dean Curtis Wright last summer and further developed his passions and ambitions by spearheading Wagner’s involvement in this program. He knew he wanted to work with schools that currently do not have enough support from any existing programs or institutions. From this, Wagner College became heavily involved in the Eagle Academy Network. When Mr. Howard arrived to Wagner as a freshman, he felt he was unprepared but that he had the drive to reach goals he did not know were attainable. Recognizing not everyone has these same goals, initiatives, or aspirations he realized he wanted to touch the lives of those who reminded him of himself.
An example of an event that the LEAD Academy men of Wagner participated in was the Tie Ceremony on October 24, 2017. While the power of this event stems from the symbolism of it, for a lot of the youth it was their first time putting on a tie, an important part of a young man’s life. At this event, the ninth graders are only referred to as scholars verse other terms that might lump them into categories that strip them of their individuality. They are celebrating the achievement of becoming responsible young men, and after the ceremony, they each recite the first two lines of Invictus. Each year that these scholars advance on, they receive a new and different tie to represent their strides. For Kemani, he was able to help a familiar face that he had worked with at a summer camp put on a tie for the first time in his life.
“I had the chance to take the opportunity that your father missed incidentally,” he said, referring to the impact of that single moment, on himself and the kid. Moments like these not only help those ninth graders, but they also benefit the men of Wagner who commit their time and effort. In Kemani’s words, “[Being] seen as a mentor, it was kind of therapeutic.”
As a senior, he is now heading to law school, hoping to pursue a degree in civil law, carrying on the stories and experiences he had before and during his time at Wagner. “Before the situation, I always understood that I was active on campus for personal interest,” he
stated. Now, Kemani has allowed himself the opportunity to use his leadership to instill leadership in others, “regardless of what situation they come from.” As diverse and progressive as Wagner College is, you have to find those programs that feed your passions and expand past the norm. Programs like these allow you to give back and “be a part of something that is not superficial and just for the year."
"It's a connection you can have for a lifetime. Semesters end, clubs end but this continues. Regardless of where you come from, if you fit the demographic, we want you.”
When I asked Kemani what advice he would give to prospective students, he said, “For me, coming here, you literally have the opportunity to shape your identity and that's a privilege because at bigger schools you can’t do that. It’s very easy to compare yourself to a group and club but there are enough amazing staff and faculty to help guide you.” Wagner might appear to suit only certain demographics depending on who is looking and from what perspective, but it is a school that continuously strives to do better by its students and the community. There are many students who stand by Kemani as they continue to progress Wagner forward in the world today. Take Kemani’s word for it, put yourself in the position to impact people and you will be impacted yourself.