Young, Gifted & Black Series
By Taki S. Raton
They are proud examples of “Urban Prep 100,” the renown banner reflecting the esteemed legacy of 100 percent college acceptance rate for all members of this year’s graduating class from Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, the first all boys public charter high school in Chicago and in the country.
Since their first inaugural graduation in 2010, Urban Prep has sent a grand total of 291 of its all male graduates to college.
They are Young, Gifted, & Black. Donnell Wright, JaBrice Reese, and Jarrett Roby are mirror images of their 82 classmates – all young, all gifted, and all Black.
The total of 85 seniors will stand strong and tall with dignity, hope and a clear vision for an obtainable bright future when they receive their diplomas Saturday, June 16, 2012 at Urban Prep’s Third Annual Commencement Exercise at the University of Illinois Chicago Forum.
“Urban Prep inspired me to excel in everything I do,” says Donnell. The 18-year-old adds that the Urban Prep Creed and the support of his fellow students and staff “create an environment for me to achieve success.” His favorite subject is Math. He reveals in his bio that he really likes Algebra. “Looking at a problem and using different equations to find the missing variable intrigues me.”
This fall, Donnell will be attending the University of Virginia in Charlottesville , Virginia. He will enroll as a Liberal Arts major with plans of changing later to International Business.
“My professional goal includes working for a major corporation in addition to building my own company. Long term, I want to be a mentor to not only my family, but also to my community as well.”
He shares that he had two key role models in his life, his brother Ahmed Wright and his grandfather, Donnell Epps. “Each pushed and influenced me to be the greatest that I can be,” he recalls.
For the third year in a row, 100 percent of Urban Prep’s class of 2012 has been accepted to over 128 different colleges and universities throughout the nation. Some of the notable colleges and universities are the American University of Paris , Concordia College in Selma , Alabama , Saint Xavier University, New Mexico State University, Benedictine University , Philander Smith College , Clark Atlanta University , Bethune-Cookman University , Morehouse College , Bradley University , Carthage College , and Drake University .
“I selected Urban Prep because I knew that Urban Prep would increase my chances of having a successful future,” says JaBrice. “Urban Prep has inspired me in many ways such as believing in myself and to know that I can achieve anything if I put my all into it.” The 18-year-old admits that during his elementary school years, he was not the best student:
“With the help of my grandparents, I was raised in a single parent household headed by my mother. In school, I was in trouble a lot which made times hard for my mom. Understanding that I needed to make a change, I soon realized that Urban Prep could help me become a better student, a better young man.”
His favorite subject at the academy is African American History. He says of his history teacher, Mr. Nissen, that he is a “great teacher who knows how to keep history exciting and relevant to current times.” JaBrice has been accepted in the fall to attend Northern Illinois University in DeKalb , Illinois . His plan is to major in Sociology with a vision of going into law school upon receiving his bachelor’s degree.
“My career goal after college is to work in the law enforcement and justice fields. As an African American male student in high school, you have to know that there is a time to buckle down and work hard, because only you hold the key to your future.”
The mission of Urban Prep is to “provide a comprehensive, high quality college preparatory education to young men that results in our graduates succeeding in college.” According to the May 24, 2012 Huff Post Chicago posting, one senior, Vernon Cheeks, 17, was accepted into 14 schools:
“Urban Prep taught me how to be resilient. It also taught me how to be accountable for my own actions,” says Cheeks in the Huff article.
Urban Prep Academies is a nonprofit organization founded in 2002 by education entrepreneur Tim King and a group of African American educators, business, and civic leaders. Their first school, Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, Englewood Campus, opened in 2006, the country’s first all-boys public charter high school. In 2009, their second building, Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, West Campus opened and their third school, Urban Prep Academy for Young Men, Bronzeville Campus opened its doors in the fall of 2010.
Cites the Huff release, the school’s success “has grown exponentially since its founding in 2006 when only four percent of the school’s first freshman class was reading at grade level when they entered.” But as of their first graduating class in 2010, Urban Prep sent all 107 of its graduating seniors directly into a college or university program. In 2011, all 99 senior graduates were also accepted in a college or university.
“No other public school in the country has done this,” said King. And according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper, the academy also boasts an impressive “persistence” record that 83 percent of the 2010 Urban Prep graduates who went on to college have stayed there as compared to a national average of 35 percent among African American males.
“I have lived on both the West Side and South Sides of Chicago. I chose Urban Prep because the news of the two previous graduating classes having 100 percent college acceptance rate was impressive,” says Jarrett.
He adds that before he came to Urban Prep, he had good self-esteem. “But Urban Prep challenged me to pursue excellence which has caused my self-esteem to increase. Urban Prep has inspired me to rise above and beyond all negative stereotypes and statistics that society has for young Black males.
Like JaBrice, Jarrett’s favorite subject at the academy is also African American History. “In my Honors African American History class, I am constantly learning surprising information about my race. The class provokes stimulating debates which in our teams cultivates and inspires outspoken individuals and independent thinkers.
The 18-year-old plans to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is considering a major in Biology so as to be a “competitive applicant” when he applies to medical school.
“My short term goal is to become an emergency room physician or general surgeon. My long term career goal is a leadership position in the United States government.”
Along with Paris Williams, the first graduate of Urban Prep to attend Georgetown University from the class of 2010, Roby is also a $500 scholarship recipient of the Soul Hoya Alumni Group Scholarship Fund. The Soul Hoya Alumni Group is the African American alumni of Georgetown University established in 2009 for the purpose of, according to a May 23, 2012 news release, “social camaraderie, community service, and supporting scholarship funds for current Georgetown students.”
Tim King is a Georgetown alumnus and in its release, the Soul Hoyas “wanted to recognize and salute the great work that our fellow Hoya Tim King is doing with Urban Prep Academies and what better way to acknowledge that than to support two young men who represent the Urban Prep legacy and are also following in Tim’s footsteps at Georgetown.”
ABC 7 News reporter Theresa Gutierrez in her May 15, 2012 writing “Urban Prep celebrates seniors’ college plans,” reports that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel joined the Chicago White Sox at a celebrative ceremony honoring this year’s Urban Prep seniors at the South Side U.S. Cellular Field. As the young men put on their White Sox baseball caps, they announced where each of them is going to college and their intended major.
In her feature, Gutierrez mentioned Roby, who in her account “was courted by many schools and selected Georgetown University where he received a four-year scholarship.” Following the ceremony, students were invited to attend the game between the Detroit Tigers and the White Sox.
“Urban Prep graduates are not becoming a statistic, they are creating statistics,” says City of Chicago Treasurer Stephanie D. Neely in her April 5, 2012 Chicago Sun Times article, “Urban Prep youths make their own path in life.”
“In doing so, Urban Prep and its young Black men are providing a systematic change that should provide the ‘proper’ stereotype or perception – one that is rooted in education, commitment, dedication, success, and a community of young Black men and boys.”
Reinforcing proper and reflective role modeling for the young men of Urban Prep, twenty of the students traveled to Washington to witness President Barack Obama’s inauguration and participate in the People’s Inauguration hosted by the Stafford Foundation.
As reported in the January 20, 2009 HuffPost, student Andrew Murphy of the 2010 class said that “Barack Obama has shown me that hard work and dedication are rewarded, provided that we are determined to reach our goals and never succumb in the face of any obstacle. He has shown me that it is okay to dream bigger, bolder and brighter dreams than seem immediately possible.”
Urban Prep’s Chief Academic Officer and Vice President of School Operations, Lionel Allen, Jr. says, “The accomplishments of the Class of 2012 serve to provide a counter narrative to the negative discourse surrounding the achievement of Black males. They are living examples of what happens when you are faithful, committed and dedicated to achieving what many would say in impossible. These young men are trailblazers and through their hard work and dedication, they will positively influence their families, communities and world.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of our 2012 graduates,” says academy founder, King. He adds that “These young men are proof that positive individual dedication and community support can change lives. I’m sure that their hard work will continue to pay off in college and beyond, and their commitment will ultimately benefit the neighborhoods in which they grew up. This is what happens when we believe.”