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Before Zeke Gebrekidane graduated from the UA, his advisers encouraged him to get involved in student government. (See "UA Back to School!" Aug. 21, 2008.) This semester, Gebrekidane returned to the UA to encourage more students to get involved by creating a bridge between African-American students and local African-American professionals. It all starts with Real Men Cook, a barbecue and resource fair for UA and Pima Community College students on Sunday, Sept. 6, from 2 to 7 p.m. at Mansfield Park, 2000 N. Fourth Ave. Need more information? Call Gebrekidane at 822-6113.

What made you come back to volunteer at the UA?

I was really lucky that my parents pushed me to get my education, and as a result, it opened doors for me. I want to help students get those same opportunities. For some students, those opportunities don't happen, and they just drop out, but it doesn't have to be that way. If there's a strong community network, we can be the first to get there and guide them. What could be better than that coming from alumni who've been through the ropes? We want everyone to come, but we especially want to see freshmen and those who've just arrived to find out what Tucson has to offer.

Who is involved?

We have four or five lawyers and MDs. Our keynote speaker is Larry Stark, who has been here in Tucson forever, and his family has been here since World War II. There are a lot of people who've known each other over the years. We're making it like a reunion. A lot of African Americans leave after school, but there are some who have stayed and love Tucson.

Why Pima students?

We tend to focus on UA students. The Pima students are forgotten. I began school at a community college. Those are my roots, and I don't want to forget about them.

How did you come up with the idea?

This summer, I was talking to (UA) President (Robert) Shelton's executive assistant. She told me about Tyler Olupitan, who arrived at the UA during summer registration. He was amazing. He asked me, "What does Tucson have to offer me?" He had already met Judge Ronald Wilson, a friend of mine who's the youngest judge on the bench (in the area). I called Ronald, and I said, "Look, he's met you, and he's met me, and I'm impressed." Then he told us, "Why don't you do a cookout for all of us at school and get to know us?" It seemed like the greatest thing we could do right now. ... Ronald reached out to the people he knew, and I was the liaison with the UA since I just graduated. All of a sudden, he started getting these people involved, and we've been meeting since mid-July at the Black Chamber of Commerce. ... We want to be mentors for these young men and women.

What community groups will be there?

We're going to have all the churches involved. We're going to have violence-prevention programs, and health and wellness. The Black Greek fraternities and sororities will there. All of the organizations will have a chance to be there and introduce themselves to the students first.

Will there be service businesses there?

Yes, the hair people, the nail people will be there, and there will be African-American doctors and lawyers, and other professionals—lots of opportunities for these African-American students to meet these people firsthand and network. And with the recent budget cuts, it's important for people in the community to come together. Sometimes, adversity can help.

What more do you see doing in the future?

As we keep meeting, we will plan more events. But I see us being the kind of group that if it's Thanksgiving, and you're a student without a place go, then you can call us, and we'll set you up with a place to go. Everyone who gets involved is going to have someone available to take them under their wing.

Has there ever been an organization that did anything like this with African-American students before?

There has never been anything like it. I see this being good for the university—a bridge between the UA and the community. We just had our open house at the Martin Luther King Jr. (Student) Center at the UA and invited everyone. I see this being a plus for (African-American Student Affairs interim program director) Maria Moore at the center. Everything is falling on her shoulders right now. They need all the help they can get.

More by Mari Herreras

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