The Center for the Study of Boys Student Advisory Board: Reflections on the Syracuse 8 Program

Graham Mauck ‘17

 Over the past couple of years St. Christopher’s has invited speakers to come and talk about the movement from being a boy to being a man.  St. Christopher’s has a program called the Center for the Study of Boys that leads the “Journey to Manhood” Speaker Series.  I had the opportunity to be involved in many of the events.  Some of the speakers include Joe Ehrmann, Josh Sundquist, Chris Herren, and the members of the Syracuse 8.  All of these speakers were amazing and they really influenced my life.  Most of their topics revolve around their own struggles and how they were able to overcome them.  Because high school students can get bored very easily during long presentations, the school asked some of the students to form a committee and help facilitate the programs.  As a group, we are called the Center of the Study of Boys Student Advisory Board.

Our job on the Student Advisory Board  is to allow students to give their perspective on these big topics.  For some of the events, our committee has meetings with the speakers in hopes of developing a fun way to engage the high school audience.  As a sophomore and junior, I had a smaller role in the meetings while the seniors dominated the conversation.  When I was asked to be on the committee again as a senior, I was ecstatic because I knew that it was my time to really speak my voice.  Fortunately for me, my favorite program came when I was a senior and a group called the Syracuse 8 came to speak to us.  The Syracuse 8 are a group of African American student athletes that played football for Syracuse University during the 1960s.  This group felt they were not getting the same treatment as the white players on the team, and they boycotted their team until the treatment was equal.  Their boycott was unsuccessful in that Syracuse did not allow them to play, but their courageous stance influenced the next generation of college programs.

In years past, during our meetings, I was asked to help create questions for the students to help facilitate a Question & Answer.  This time I decided to step up and be the one who gave the chapel talk about the program.  Not many students get the opportunity for chapel talks as we have a very busy schedule in the morning.  Knowing that I am uncomfortable public speaking, this was not going to be easy.  But my fear was overcome by my desire to become a leader within the school.  Realizing this desire within myself gave me confidence.  The Committee was relying on me to give a good and engaging presentation.

After I finished the presentation, I was greeted with many compliments about how the students were excited for the upcoming program.  I think it is sometimes easier for a student to help inform other students rather than having a teacher up there giving his perspective.  I was happy to have been able to lead my committee and the Upper School in preparation for our big event.  The process of learning how to lead fellow students and realizing my potential as a leader made me consider how I can influence people in the future.  As importantly, I found myself engaging personally with the Syracuse 8 members in a more confident manner.  I better understood what they were saying about leadership and involvement.  One of the members is returning to the school this winter, and I am helping him organize a small program for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  It took me a while to realize how I could help people because I may have been shier during my sophomore and junior years, but as a senior, I really feel like I can help make our community better and more informed.

 

Gordon Mitchell ‘17

The Syracuse 8 were a group of Syracuse University football players in the 1960’s who took a powerful stand against the racial injustice they experienced both on and off the playing field. Their petition for racial equality revolved around four central demands: better medical care for injured players both black and white, stronger academic support for African American student-athletes, the right to compete fairly for any position on the starting team, and racial integration of the football coaching staff. By taking this powerful stand and refusing to waver under immense pressure and criticism as well as jeopardizing both their college and professional football careers, these players paved the way for future African American athletes and became a symbol of the power of standing up for what is right.

As I sat in front of five of these powerful men, listening carefully as they shared their story, I began to wonder how their message applied to me and those sitting around me. How did these speakers fit into our Journey to Manhood Speaker Series? When these nine young men took their stand, they were nineteen years old, merely a year older than I am today. Under the scrutiny of the entire country, these courageous men fought back against what had been seen as a normality in sports; white players had priority over African American players. They immediately recognized the injustice in this standard, and protested against the administration, jeopardizing their future to finish their college and professional football careers. I began to wonder if I would have the ability to make such a defiant stand despite the malicious letters, threats, and constant hatred. But as I considered this, I realized that was the reason we were crammed into this hot gym. After hearing the empowering stories of these men’s struggles against the injustice they faced, my peers and I are better equipped to question the injustice against others and stand up for what we think is right, in a world that is demanding the inclusion of all more than ever before.

 

Evan Knight ‘19

My experience working on the Student Advisory Board for the “Journeys to Manhood” Series was one that I will remember for many years to come. The reason I joined the committee was to expand my experience as a leader in our community. Working with Dr. Hudson and other boys definitely helped me accomplish that, and I recommend that anyone seeking to fill a leadership role join this committee. The most memorable part of working with this committee was without a doubt eating dinner with members of the Syracuse 8.

I arrived at Alumni Hall several minutes early, and when I opened the door to go in, no one else was there. So, as any curious teenage boy would do, I took a look around. When I strolled into the main area, I was struck with an aura of importance. I felt like I needed to stand up straighter and walk with more confidence, even though I was completely alone. This aura continued as I went around the room reading the various plaques and admiring the decade old artwork of previous significant St. Christopher’s leaders, ones that will be remembered in our community for generations.

The front door opened and in walked members of the Syracuse 8. I went to the door and greeted each of them, I felt honored to be in the presence of these courageous men. They all sat down on the couches, along with Head of School, Mr. Lecky. Immediately they started joking with each other and laughing like the best of friends; this relieved a lot of my nervousness. We then talked more seriously about Syracuse, and the problems they faced. Through the discussion, I gained a deeper understanding of how the times were in the 1960’s and ‘70s. It was an eye opening experience actually hearing the stories of people who were part of the fight for equality. One aspect of their story that really caught my attention was that the FBI was involved with their situation. Some of the members even had FBI agents knocking on their doors, and questioning their parents. This made me realize how big of a deal their situation was. We then began dinner and talked to each other more individually.

Shortly after, our time together came to an end. It was really interesting getting to interact with such a prestigious group. Working with this committee has a been great experience, and makes me want to participate in more projects like this one.

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  • Susan Mitchell says:

    I attended the Syracuse 8 evening program hosted by STC. It was very moving and inspiring, not only because of the stories relayed by the team members but also because of the questions and comments from audience members who were able to attend from all over Richmond. It’s wonderful to hear these students’ accounts. Thank you, Dr. Hudson and your students, for making extraordinary events like these possible.