Feb. 23, 2018 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Eighth-graders at this year's Latino Youth Conference will hear from a Grand Rapids Community College alumnus who has built a successful career by combining his passion for the theater with his dedication to diversity and inclusion.
Sammy Publes will be the keynote speaker at the event, which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. March 6 at Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse, 111 Lyon St. NE. The conference, a community initiative led by GRCC's Bob and Aleicia Woodrick Center for Equity and Inclusion, also includes workshops and presentations designed to encourage West Michigan eighth-graders to continue their education beyond high school.
"This conference -- the result of collaboration and volunteer efforts -- will remind these students that they have a whole community to support them along the way," said Domingo Hernandez-Gomez, director of the Woodrick Center. "It is important for them to have a concrete image of what success looks like and, hopefully, find inspiration in that to strive for academic excellence."
The title of Publes' presentation is “Sueña Ahora, Actúa Ahora” (“Dream Now, Act Now”).
Publes emigrated from Cuba with his family as a political refugee in 1988. He received an Associate in Liberal Arts from GRCC and a Bachelor of Arts, with a concentration in theater and Spanish, from Western Michigan University.
"I want to empower the kids to not settle for their story -- to get up every day understanding that their story is not written," he said. "Every day is an opportunity for a new chapter, particularly for Latino students. As an immigrant myself, I realize we don’t have a right to be lazy or not be inspired. Our ancestors have gone through too much to get us here. We owe our success to them.”
While living in Chicago, Publes performed with the Steppenwolf Theater Company, Healthworks Theater, Teatro Vista, Apple Tree Theater, Second City and Lookingglass Theater. He has appeared in the films “Batman Vs. Superman” and “Stone” and on the TV shows "The Chi," “Chicago Fire,” Chicago PD,” “Shameless” and “Empire.”
He has started his own theater company, Mixed Roots Collective, to address inequality of representation in local theater and film. He is also a co-founder of One World Diversity in an attempt to address issues of disparity and inclusion and equality in society.
In addition to Publes' address, the conference includes workshops designed to help the eighth-graders turn their dreams into reality. Presenters from the Woodrick Center, Grand Valley State University, Varnum LP, Mercantile Bank and other community organizations and businesses will lead sessions that include career possibilities, goal-setting, financial literacy and leadership.
Conference participants will be encouraged to use what they learn to help others, Hernandez-Gomez said.
"While this event is about their dreams, it also about their community," he said. "They are the next generation of leaders who have a civic duty to shape their community for the better."
Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.