CHICAGO–For the fifth consecutive year, 100 percent of Urban Prep’s graduating class has been accepted into four-year universities and colleges. This was the first year that its Bronzeville campus graduated seniors.
Approximately 240 African American men received high school diplomas, Saturday, June 14 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive. Students from all three campuses, Urban Prep’s Englewood and West Campus and Bronzeville all came together to celebrate the accomplishment.
“We push our men, tell them college is the thing and we aren’t accepting anything less than that,” said Lionel Allen, chief academic officer.
“When you have high expectations for students and you surround them with the support they need to be successful, this is what you get, you get 100 percent college acceptance year after year,” he said.
Urban Prep Academies was founded in 2002 by Tim King and a group of Black education, business and civic leaders. In 2005 the nonprofit was approved to open Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men–Englewood Campus. The class of 2014 has earned more than $12 million in scholarships and have been accepted into more than 185 four-year colleges and universities across the country.
Justin Grey was one of the students graduating from the Bronzeville campus.
“We’re making history, it feels great and I’m really happy because we’re the first so I can always say I graduated from this school first, it’s such a huge accomplishment for all of us,” he said.
He’s attending the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign where he plans to study English with the goal of coming back to Urban Prep to teach.
Even though that is the goal now, it wasn’t always, said the college-bound student, who said it’s usually the parents’ idea to send their child to the all-male school. He has no regrets though.
“In the end it’s definitely worth the while and I would say that if anyone is coming in new, like you definitely want to just stick with it because it may be different, but it definitely pays off,” he said.
Dumar Harris, from the Englewood Campus, said that not everyone he started out with stayed to the end, but for those who did, they have become better students and men.
“They taught me to think about the long term goals instead of the short term,” he said. “Like right here, right now, I can have fun, but that doesn’t guarantee the fun in the future so I have to put in the hard work now so then I can have fun.”
Harris said the faculty and staff are invested in the students academically and professionally.
“The narrative around African American males is rooted in negativity and failure, the rhetoric is just overwhelmingly negative and so we don’t want to be that kind of narrative, we want to show it’s possible when you have a staff that’s made up of committed and dedicated individuals who won’t accept failure as an option,” said Allen.
Valedictorian Steven Clark, from the Englewood campus said in his speech that he and his classmates were told over and over again that they are “intelligent” and they need to believe in themselves.
In this era of “selfies” it was no surprise when the graduate took out his phone to take a photo with the crowd behind him.
“I had to show the world the real Black men in Chicago are sitting right here. We are collegiants, not convicts,” he said.
The commencement wasn’t all serious. Entertainment came from Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago as well as hip-hop violinist Lee England Jr. The Urban Prep Englewood Campus Djembe Drummers opened the ceremony with their hypnotic and vigorous drumming. Also, there were video messages from Tom Joyner, Roland Martin and Don Lemon.