Marques Bowie, a senior at Hartford Public High School, was impressed recently when he looked around the school's library and saw more than a dozen successful men of color.
From police officers to entrepreneurs to elected officials, they were in the library for one reason—to speak to Marques and 50 of his fellow male students about their futures.
But these weren't just any men.
Most of them grew up on the same streets and neighborhoods the students call home—then went onto successful careers.
They were there to provide guidance and show that young, minority men from Hartford can flourish.
"To see black men in our community who have done well, that motivates me," Bowie said.
Shemar Nelson, also a senior, called it "encouraging."
"I think it's great to see men who came from the same neighborhoods as us succeed," he said.
The program, In Our Footsteps: Real Male Role Models for Today's Youth, assembled the Hartford men to share their success stories with the students.
State Rep. Brandon McGee (D-Hartford) brought the men together after he was contacted by Andréa Comer, vice president for workforce strategies with CBIA's Education & Workforce Partnership.
Partnership program manager Dayl Walker, who works at the high school heightening student awareness of careers in engineering and manufacturing, helped coordinate the Hartford event.
"Thirty years ago, I was just like you. I graduated from Hartford High," said state Rep. Joshua Hall (D-Hartford).
But these days, Hall, an educator by profession, is a state representative from his hometown.
"What we experienced growing up in Hartford, you guys are probably going through the same thing right now," said Joseph Bumpers of the Boys & Girls Club of Hartford.
'Control Your Future'
Abdul Rahmaan Muhammad, CEO and president of My People Clinical Services, told the students that they control their own future.
"If I put it in my mind and work hard enough, I can be anything I want to be," he said.
Muhammad said that for many young men, the concept of strength refers to their muscles.
But, he said, unless you're among the small percentage of people who go on to play professional sports, the muscle that really matters is your brain.
If I put it in my mind and work hard enough, I can be anything I want to be.
But, he told the students, one day you're going to be 40.
"And if you're still concerned with being cool and strong, you've wasted 20 years of your life," he said.
After a pizza lunch provided by United Technologies, a major sponsor of the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford High, students broke into smaller groups, each meeting with two or three role models.
"Like you, I grew up in Hartford," said Hall, who graduated with honors from Norfolk State University in Virginia.
And after graduating, Hall fulfilled a promise to return home and work in his hometown.
He's spent much of his adult life working to empower children and families, and giving back to the community.
This day was no different.
Tyree Hughey and Daemond Benjamin, on track coordinators with the nonprofit Connecticut RISE Network, are assigned to the school and support educators by helping ensure students are college or career ready.
They said success is based largely on consistency.
'Education Is Key'
"It's about getting kids to understand that education is key—and that they have to show up every day," Benjamin said.
"The focus is on education but it starts with attendance," Hughey said.
Hartford Public High School's Anthony Brooks urged the young men to take advantage of the knowledge and experience gathered before them.
Visualize your future. This could be you in a few years from now.
"Visualize your future. This could be you in a few years from now.
"They know what it's like to be a Hartford High School student. They're here for you."