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Male Conference Speakers Urge V.I. Youth to "Man Up"

More than 3,000 young men who attended a male empowerment conference at the University of the Virgin Islands this week received pointers on how to purposefully steer their lives toward success. The call to "Man Up" was echoed by each of four presenters who spoke Tuesday on UVI's St. Thomas campus and Thursday on the University's St. Croix campus.
As much in response to rising community concern about violent crime as a downward trend in the number of black males enrolled in colleges and universities across the nation, the conference offered insight and alternatives.
Citing that black men "are the number one targets in America," the conference's keynote speaker, entrepreneur Farrah Gray, implored the crowd to gain knowledge, dream big and work hard. Gray, 26, described growing up poor and the road he took to become a millionaire at the age of 14.
"If I can do it, anybody can do it," he said. At the age of 6, Gray sold hand-painted rocks and by 16 was the owner of Farr-Out Foods, which generated orders exceeding $1.5 million. "We're here today because we believe that success is at our fingertips," Gray said Tuesday on St. Thomas. He told the participants to ask themselves, "What did God put you here to do?"
Other presenters included retired NFL safety Donovin Darius, St. Croix Pastor Dexter Skepple and the rap and R&B songwriting duo Rock City.
Darius gave sobering statistics of the number of high school football players who eventually go on to have NFL careers. Even after making it to the NFL, most players only last for three years in the league. Young men must get an education and pursue their passion, he said. "You are special. You were made to dominate. You were made to succeed. Inside each of you is greatness. It is up to you if you tap into that greatness or not."
Rock City told the young men that watching their parents work two jobs and still being broke motivated them to become successful songwriters and entertainers. They encouraged the young men to find something or someone to keep them motivated. "Do you want your mother to stop working?" Theron Thomas asked. Even if you aren't motivated for yourself, "do it for your mother, father, grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousin - anybody who helped you," he said.
Pastor Skepple's message was one of perseverance. "Your life can be a success if you never give up. Regardless of what comes your way in life, never give up."
University of the Virgin Islands President David Hall said the students who attended were impacted.
"The conference has had the ability to touch the lives of more male students in the territory, at one time, than ever has been done before - to touch their lives with a positive energy that could change and transform the lives of many of those young men."
Co-hosted by the University of the Virgin Islands and the Virgin Islands Department of Education, the conference was sponsored by the Youth Enrichment Initiative of the Virgin Islands Lottery, First Bank Virgin Islands, The Virgin Islands Department of Human Services Division of Family Assistance, The West Indian Company Limited and the College Access Challenge Grant Program.
"The partnership that existed between UVI and so many agencies really demonstrates that if we work collaboratively toward a common goal, we can make a difference," President Hall said.
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