Breaking Barriers: (A LOT of) Brothers With A Plan!

15 Mar

Close your eyes and picture this if you will; 107 studious, well dressed, intelligent and articulate, college-bound young men…Now imagine that they’re (all) black.

 Well in this scenario, you don’t have to imagine at all.  A girlfriend of mine recently sent me an article from the Chicago Tribune which highlighted the entire senior class of Urban Prep Academy (a public all-male, all-African American High School in Chicago) who’ve ALL been accepted to a total of 72 colleges and universities across the nation.  What’s even more commendable is the fact that since Urban Prep Academy for Young Men opened its doors in 2006, this would make these gentlemen the first graduating class; a class who has set the standard and hopefully a long-standing legacy for future graduating classes to emulate and exceed.

 The charter school, which takes educating its students seriously, has a rigorous academic schedule for it’s young men to maintain. Equally stringent are the school’s guidelines on appropriate attire.  The policy, which normally enforces a strict dress code of black blazers, khaki pants and red ties for the entire student body, makes a special exception for its Senior Class.  After a student (or in this case 107 students) receives the news that he’s been accepted into college, he marks the achievement by exchanging his red tie for a red and gold one.

 At an assembly hosted by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Chicago Public School chief Ron Huberman, the Urban Prep student body was surprised to learn that the upper classmen would be honored and awarded their bold and suave red & gold ties.  Speaking to the students, Huberman applauded the seniors for their hard work and for shining a positive light on the school.

 “All of you in the senior class have shown that what matters is perseverance, what matters is focus, what matters is having a dream and following that dream,” Huberman said.

 While there are some who would argue that any one of the Chicago areas elite and selective preparatory schools achieve similar feats like this each year without the pomp and circumstance of an award assembly and mayoral visit, what makes the accomplishment and honor at Urban Prep so significant is the fact that by design, this charter school’s enrollment is based on a lottery in one of the city’s more troubled neighborhoods.  According to the school’s CEO Tim King, Only 4 percent of this year’s senior class read at grade level as freshmen when the school opened back in ’06.  School officials knew they were facing difficult odds, but were dedicated to the cause of educating students and getting them into college.  With established annual field trips for incoming high school freshmen to Northwestern University, and every student being assigned a college counselor before even completing their first day of school, the staff and administration at Urban Prep are more than just amplified talking heads when it comes to their commitment for developing college bound kids.

 Now, despite the fact that we live in a culture where more black men are incarcerated than in college, and when it seems that the dominant social mentality surrounding all things associatively “black and masculine” tend to have a negative connotation associated with it, I cannot help but find this story of tenacity and triumph refreshing.  It makes one wonder though, with all the generally negative coverage of black men in the media, why a new media angle highlighting this tale of accomplished black men hasn’t generated much national attention (honestly, I don’t wonder…I know why, but refuse to let that diminish the relevance of the achievements at Urban Prep).

 I think for me, what makes this story so poignant is the fact that although national averages and statistics reveal the racial gap in college graduation remains broad (63% of white students graduate from college as compared to a dismal 43% for black students), and that black women continue to outpace black men in college graduation rates (47% to 36% respectively), the staff and the brothers at Urban Prep are determined to impact these figures positively.

Of Urban Prep’s first graduating class, CEO Tim King boasted: “I never had a doubt that we would achieve this goal.  Every single person we hired knew from day one that this is what we do: We get our kids into college.”

 And I have no doubt that with their high school successes, and continued determination that these young men can successfully transition into well-performing college students and in time, highly decorated graduates. 

Congratulations to the entire senior class of Urban Preparatory Academy for Young Men! 

“Without Education, there is no hope for our people and without hope, our future is lost.”

~Charles Hamilton Houston

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