I was fortunate twenty years ago. I was fortunate to live in a community with excellent public schools. A community where college was not only attainable, but expected for those students who wanted to attend. That good fortune led to opportunities after high school. The opportunity to attend college and eventually law school. The opportunity to graduate law school and take and pass the Illinois bar. All of this was born from foundation received in high school. Twenty years later, I look back at that time with awe and shock. Just as awesome as the education I took for granted was, it is shocking the amount of children that do not have the same educational opportunities.
We are all familiar with many of the woes Chicago Public School children have. Roughly 50% of Chicago Public School kids graduate high school. A 2006 University of Chicago study found that one in 40 African-American boys in CPS eventually graduate a four year college.
Then came Urban Prep Academy for Young men in Englewood. Founded in 2006 by Tim King, the former President of Hales Franciscan High School, Mr. King said he "wanted to create a school that was going to put black boys in a different place, and in my mind that place needed to be college."
With a lot of hard work from his first two graduating classes, Mr. King was able to put his students in that different place. In 2010, 107 of his graduating class of 107 went on to four year colleges and universities. Yesterday, Urban Prep announced that everyone in its graduating class of 2011 were accepted into a four year college or university. All 104 students. Two years, 211 students. 211 opportunities at a better life. 211 foundations for life built by Urban Prep.
"It's about time we show to the community and the public there are young men doing great things," said 2011 graduate Nigel Bruce.
Alfonso Henderson was accepted by 21 schools, but is waiting on Harvard, Yale and Wheaton College. Cedric Hakeem is going to Cornell College on scholarship. Mason Fuller is going to Northern Illinois University on an athletic scholarship.
An alum, Israel Wilson returned to announce he made the Dean's List in his first year at Morehouse College.
"The school has given me a confidence in myself. Originally, I did not want to attend Urban Prep. But, I wouldn't trade my experience for the world," one student said.
Cedric Hakeem's house caught fire on December 31st. After confirming everyone was out of his home and safe, Cedric returned into his home to retrieve his laptop computer. "My laptop had all my applications, and most college applications are due by Jan. 1. I figured if my laptop burns, I'm through," Cedric explained. Regarding Cedric, Urban Prep CEO Tim King said: "We would never advocate that anybody run into a burning building to get a computer or essay or application, but what (Cedric's story) speaks to is how much our students are dedicated and focused on getting into college... They recognize that with college they will have very different lives that will be transformative for them and their communities."
The school is built on its creed, which students repeat daily:
We believe - We are the young men of Urban Prep - We are college bound - We are exceptional-not because we say it, but because we work hard at it - We will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us - We are dedicated, committed and focused - We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty or fear - We never fail because we never give up - We make no excuses - We choose to live honestly, nonviolently and honorably - We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people - We have a future for which we are accountable - We have a responsibility to our families, community and world - We are our brothers' keepers - We believe in ourselves - We believe in each other - We believe in Urban Prep - We believe
Urban Prep has changed the lives of 211 boys. These kids didn't grow up in Elmhurst, Downers Grove, or Buffalo Grove, where they could walk to the public high school and expect to be prepared for college. These kids fought hard and committed themselves to the goal of getting into a four year college. These young men should be commended for his accomplishment. But what's even better is that they realize the goal of getting into a four year college is not the end game, but only a beginning. They believe. And we should start believing in them. We should provide more opportunities for more children to get the education, opportunity and foundation for great, productive lives.
They believe. We should too.