Toledo Excel’s 38th Annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth

Sheila Cook, Jeff Johnson and Theresa Quinn

By Dawn Scotland
Sojourner’s Truth Reporter

Toledo Excel hosted its 38th annual Conference for Aspiring Minority Youth Saturday, January 29 at the University of Toledo Lancelot Thompson Student Union Auditorium. The event featured gospel recording artist Isaiah Templeton and keynote speakers Hill Harper and Jeff Johnson.

Students, parents, and community leaders gathered at the University of Toledo to engage in a four-hour morning conference hosted by Toledo Excel in partnership with Owens Corning. The longstanding event, organized by the scholarship program, has been ongoing since 1985.

Jeff Johnson and David Young

Alexis Means of 13abc served as the mistress of ceremonies while Excel students read introductions for guest and speakers. Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Damain L. Pryor (interim assistant dean of Student Services and Leadership Programs at the University of Toledo) and Marcio Saundri of Owens Corning all gave acknowledgements of the special event.

Following acknowledgements, David Young, director of Toledo Excel, introduced a special guest on the program. Helen Cooks, PhD, founder of Toledo Excel, walked onto the stage to a standing ovation to give remarks.

“I’m happy to be here this morning… more happy than you’ll ever know”, said Cooks, who survived COVID twice, as well as Guillain-Barré and was paralyzed last year. Now Cooks was able to walk on stage to give remarks. Under her leadership and guidance the Toledo Excel program has served over 1500 students since 1988 and has alumni all over the world.

Helen Cooks

The first keynote speaker for the morning was award winning journalist Jeff Johnson. He provides regular content on The Root and the nationally-syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show and worked with Steve Harvey on his New York Times best seller, Act Like A Success, Think Like A Success. Johnson, a Toledo native, University of Toledo alumnus and graduate of the Toledo Excel program credits Toledo Excel for his successes.

In of lieu of a traditional speech, Johnson let the youth of the city have the opportunity to speak. Johnson brought youth on stage from all over the city to talk about pressing issues facing our community and how they would solve them. The students spoke about the lack of individuality, gun violence, mental health among other topics. “You are not leaders of the future…”, said Johnson. ”You’re leaders in this moment.”

Hill Harper speaks to Toledo youth

Isaiah Templeton, Dayton-native and gospel recording artist sang his single entitled “This Life.” The singer has worked under the tutelage of Smokie Norful.

Hill Harper, actor, youth advocate and bestselling author spoke about the importance of manifestation.  “The amount of energy you apply is to something is critical… we live our lives with way too little energy… we’re not living with enough energy to manifest the change.”

Harper gave parents and student a blueprint to manifest success in their life. Following Harpers speech students were able to engage with the author in a Q&A session. Currently, Harper stars in ABC’s #1 television drama, The Good Doctor.

“Since it began in 1988, TOLEDO EXCEL, a scholarship incentive program at The University of Toledo, has been striving to prepare students for success in college. EXCEL involves student members of groups under-represented in higher education–including African, Appalachian, Asian, Hispanic and Native Americans–in pre-college academic programs to increase their self-esteem, cultural awareness of diversity, and civic involvement. Among EXCEL’s services to high school students are Saturday School, Summer Institutes, tutoring, academic retreat weekends, campus visits, advising for strategic admissions and financial aid, and ethnographic field studies in the U.S. and abroad.” (source: