A panel of educators and college students warned black high school students Friday that, despite the Obama presidency, some employers and teachers will still hold prejudices based on skin color.
"You have to be clear about racism and its impact on us, because it has not gone away yet," Chicago State University Professor Yan Dominic Searcy said.
But students attending the Black Teen Summit at Palatine's Harper College also heard the message that Obama's success has shown they shouldn't use race as reason for failure or a crutch.
Friday's summit brought together about 250 suburban students from 16 high schools. The event, in its seventh year and held during Black History Month, gathers a panel of successful black professionals who could share their experiences with youngsters.
The summit also gives students a chance to meet college counselors from area universities.
"These students need to see others like them who have been successful," said Harper's Recruiting Manager Tamara McClain.
Palatine High School once again sent a group to the summit as part of its Black History Month activities. Senior Kathryn Kelly attended and said Obama has generated excitement among her classmates.
"It's an amazing accomplishment that we've gotten that far," she said.
Palatine High social studies teacher Asa Gordon has managed to rally students to celebrate the month.
At Hoffman Estates High School, a Soul Bowl - featuring a trivia competition and musical performances - took place earlier in the month. Other Black History Month events in Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 schools included a movie night and school assembly.
Still, Kelly said she's heard from friends at other schools who feel Black History Month is ignored.
"I think it would be nice for more people from more nationalities to experience it with African-American students," she said.
That may be changing. Summit coordinator Ruth Soil, a counselor a Maine East High School in Park Ridge, noted Palatine's Fremd High School sent students to the summit for the first time. But Soil said she's indifferent about nonblacks participating in Black History Month activities. She said her community, like other ethnic groups across the country, need the opportunity to focus on their history and future.
"I think it's important that we as people do it," she said. "If nobody else wants to do it, it's fine."