By Ian Taylor, Jr.
The best way to experience the University of Minnesota is to be engaged on campus. While I was a student, I tried to live out this attitude as much as possible and participated in virtually every activity offered. I was a tour guide, I took part in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, I sat on a student board of directors, and I started my own student group on campus, in addition to joining several other student groups.
Starting a student group was one of the main ways that I was able to connect with others on campus. The entire process, actually, was a journey of learning about others and myself. The organization I started was the Black Men’s Forum. My leadership as president of the organization profoundly impacted my understanding of community engagement. My experience began, however, with the struggles of my first year at the University, which was a blend of tragedy and triumph. In many ways, I was having an amazing experience. I was doing well at work and in school, excited about new classes. But this excitement conflicted with my deep feelings of cultural isolation. I was the only African American in my living learning community, and it was a rarity to be in a space where there were other young black people, particularly black men.
Thankfully, I had begun to meet more black males in the new building that I was living in my sophomore year, learning that they too struggled with the same feelings of alienation and social discomfort. Our conversations inspired me to create the Black Men’s Forum, a space where black men from across the University could come together for fellowship and mentorship. I introduced others to the idea and attracted leaders that shared similar passions. Although I wasn’t working to change a policy or law, I was addressing a serious social void on campus by building a space for black men.
Leading the Forum, I recognized the importance of establishing cultural spaces where people could have a voice of representation. Within a semester of our creation, schools across the Twin Cities were requesting us for mentoring. Student groups around the community were reaching out to do collaborative projects with us. I saw that I was serving a tangible need in my community, that I was answering a call to make a difference.
Ian Taylor, Jr. is a graduating senior in the University Honors program and pre-law, majoring in English and African American & African Studies. He also works in Admissions.
The photo is of leadership from the Black Men's Forum. Ian Taylor, Jr. is in the center.