FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- For 16 years, the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Office has hosted the African American Student Leadership Conference.
On Tuesday, thousands of students descended to downtown Fresno's Convention Center new exhibit hall for the first time in person in three years.
Dr. Angie Barfield with the Office of Fresno County Superintendent of Schools was the conference coordinator.
"Today we have over 1,050 students with us from as far north as Merced, and far south as Visalia, so we have the family in the house today," Dr. Barfield said.
This year's theme is "Be Black Excellence," and the focus is pursuing it with honor.
Dr. Barfield said about 8% of students in Fresno County identify as Black or African American, so she feels the conference is necessary for students.
"Yes, we might be small in population, but God we are mighty in will. So, we want our students to leave here knowing I can walk out of these doors and I can accomplish anything," Dr. Barfield said.
The five-hour conference started with the keynote Dr. Christopher Emdin, an author and Professor at the University of Southern California.
During his speech, he freestyled to show the connection between rap and science.
At USC, he teaches the intersection of pop culture and education, but today he encouraged students to expand excellence throughout all aspects of their life.
"We want artistic excellence, we want intellectual excellence, we want academic excellence, excellence on the ball court, and the same kind of excellence in a classroom," Dr. Emdin said.
Central Unified Junior Karinna Tate said that encouragement and Tuesday's environment helped her to express herself.
"Growing up I was taught to act a certain way ...to be responsive to my peers, so I'm not seen as a threat, but when it comes to February I don't have to do that," Tate said.
After the keynote, students rotated through workshops that helped their self-esteem and character.
There was a packed room for Rob Golden's session. The former Pittsburgh Steelers safety and founder of Golden Charter Academy spoke on fulfilling your goals.
Consultant Pete Lopes and CEO Dr. Deshunna Monay Ricks also presented at break-out sessions.
Students made sure to stop at the College and Career Fair.
The program impacted not only students but also local educators. Central East Counselor Cameron Brooks was reminded why he went into education in the first place. "We need to fight to put more Black educators in our schools just so our students can relate a little bit easier to the people on our campus," Brooks said.
Retired Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Jim Yovino was honored with the Legacy of Excellence Trailblazer Award.
While the program ended Tuesday afternoon, officials say they are already planning for next year's conference.
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