Conference aims to help middle school boys get on the right path

KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - Middle school is often a time when people start to change who they are and finding new friend groups. The Youth Empowerment Conference aims at getting more kids on the path to positivity earlier in life.

UNK hosted the Youth Empowerment Conference to show middle school boys ways they can get on a positive path in life. (KSNB)

Hosted at UNK, the conference brought in over 200 boys from middle schools all over central Nebraska. They attended workshops focusing on healthy relationships, careers, and staying away from drugs and alcohol.

“Our conference is about 90% diverse and it's important for young attendees to see there's others like themselves being professionals,” Director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Juan Guzman said.

The conference is put on by the Sigma Lambda Beta international fraternity. The men of the fraternity connected with the boys and showed them the type of future they could have.

“We're the lucky ones who got the opportunity to get a scholarship and go to college and to graduate from college,” Guzman said. “This is what I tell my students all the time, once you graduate it's your right and responsibility to help others.”

The keynote speaker shared his mistakes and how he overcame obstacles and reached success. He is a Kansas Highway Patrol Trooper. Gustavo Ramirez was raised in Lexington and he started hanging out with the wrong people and getting in trouble in middle school. Those actions followed him into adulthood.

“My problems with myself began at the age that these kids are at right now in middle school. The people that I was hanging out with, they didn't think it was pretty cool to come up to conferences like this. They didn't think it was cool to try to already spark and interest in higher education,” Ramirez said.

He talked about his parents immigrating to the United States and the challenges that came with. Then shared a tragic story where he was involved in a car accident that killed two of his friends. He said he fell into hard times after that and got arrested a few times.

When he got older and had a child he attended UNK as a chance to turn his life around, he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement but his history kept him from being accepted from several different agencies. But the Kansas Highway Patrol accepted him and now he tries to show young people that they should learn from his mistakes.

This is the 7th year of the conference and now those who attended the first one are now students at UNK. Some say their success comes from what they learned at the conference as middle school students.