While attending their first African Black Coalition Conference in 2007, students from UC Merced received a “newbie” award for their participation. Conference organizers took notice of their eagerness to participate and enthusiasm.
Now, just two years later, the UC Merced “newbies” are running the show.
UC Merced is gearing up to host the Sixth Annual African Black Coalition (ABC) Conference from May 1 through 3. More than 500 students from University of California campuses throughout the state have registered to attend, with another two dozen participants from CSU campuses, Merced College, the Merced community at large and UC alumni .
Organizers have put together a program that includes workshops, speakers, an information fair for students considering graduate school  and a High School Outreach Day, said event chairwoman and UC Merced alumna Kamilia Dews. This year’s conference theme is “Releasing Our Shackles, Embracing Freedom; Proving We Are Powerful Beyond Measure.” The workshops cover a wide variety of topics – from academics, politics and gender roles to religion, race relations and retention rates of UC students of color.
Three guest speakers are scheduled to address conference attendees. This year’s keynote speaker, a representative from the national nonprofit group Teach for America, will address conference participants on May 2. Teach for America is a group of recent college graduates and professionals who have given a two-year commitment to teach in underserved urban and rural public schools. UC Student Regent D’Artagnan Scorza, is also scheduled to speak at the conference. Scorza was appointed student regent for 2008-09. Student diversity, access and affordability to higher education are two of Scorza’s areas of interest.
Conference organizers have planned a graduate fair and a High School Outreach Day. The graduate fair is geared toward students considering graduate school at the University of California. High School Outreach Day will kick off the three-day conference, according to UC Merced admissions  officer Shavon English, who is assisting the students in coordinating the conference.
High School Outreach Day, on May 1, will provide UC students a chance to mentor younger students and promote the benefits of earning a college education, said English. About 75 students from Merced, Golden Valley, Buhach Colony and Atwater high schools are expected to attend. The students will tour UC Merced’s campus, listen to faculty and staff presentations on what the university has to offer, participate in a scavenger hunt and learn what it takes to gain admission.
ABC is an alliance of students from the nine University of California campuses that offer undergraduate studies. It was founded in 2003 by a group of UC Santa Barbara students who wanted to unite and network with other UC students to address and resolve issues specific to students of color.
Dews, along with students Jasmine Bell and Jasminn Chestnut, attended their first ABC Conference, held at UC Santa Barbara, in 2007. The next year, they decided to try and bring the conference to UC Merced. Before submitting their proposal, the students first discussed their plan with Jane Lawrence, vice chancellor for student affairs .
With support from school administrators and assistance from English, the group crafted their proposal. In explaining how the coalition and conference impact her and other UC Merced students, Bell wrote that conference “showed us ways to better unite our campus, our community and ourselves. It enabled students to come back to UC Merced and share the knowledge we learned with other students on our campus, regardless of their race.”
The students hope that by hosting the conference, they will help highlight UC Merced.
“We want to let people know what UC Merced is made of,” Bell said.