Well, they've done it again. Urban Prep Academy of Chicago, an all-male charter school with kids from the "worst" parts of Chicago, is sending 100% of its graduating seniors off to college. The school, founded in 2006, has stated that its continuous objective is to see to it that all of its students go to college. They are succeeding with flying colors.
The school started with kids whose futures had been left for dead by their public schools: Only four percent of the school's incoming freshmen were reading at grade level when they arrived on campus. But by sending all of their graduating seniors to college, they've not only gotten these kids up to speed, they've allowed them to zip past every other public school in the entire United States.
"No other public [school] in the country has done this," said Tim King, the founder of Urban Prep.
The students at the school are required to wear a jacket and tie every single day. They also go to school for two hours longer than other kids. They take English twice a day and are given a mentor with a cell number that kids can call 24 hours a day. They've clearly hit the mark when it comes to understanding that getting our children to the land of educational success requires both academic and sociological strategies.
When I first wrote about Urban Prep Academy last year, I was incredibly proud. Like Stephen Stafford, the 13-year old kid who now attends Morehouse College, the men of Urban Prep Academy are firm reminders of what black men are meant to be. We are not hard wired to be thugs, athletes or entertainers. We are meant to be just as brilliant, capable and successful as everyone else in America. Tim King is teaching his boys something that I learned while teaching college over the last 17 years: There is no such thing as "college material." Every child can be college material if they choose to be. I was personally told that I wasn't smart enough to go to college, but it takes more intelligence to make it in prison than it does to make it on a college campus. It all comes down to hard work, and black people know how to work hard.
Urban Prep also reminds me of the controversy surrounding the "Tiger Mom," Amy Chua, who believes in positioning your children for excellence. I am a huge fan of the Tiger Mom, and I believe we need a whole bunch of "Tiger Mamas" in the black community to push our children to reach their potential (our mothers are our first teachers, giving them the most important job in the world). Even those who have access to the best of American public education are falling far behind the rest of the world when it comes to their ability to compete in the 21st century. In that regard, Tim King's boys at Urban Prep are actually ahead of the curve, not just catching up.
What I also love about Urban Prep is that they are translating the excellence that black men show in athletics and transferring that to academic achievement. It takes far less effort and natural ability to become a heart surgeon than it does to become an NBA basketball player. By diversifying our paths toward professional and economic success, we are helping thousands of black men avoid the standard trappings of the typical inner city hoop dream. As I rally for educational equality and Kelley Williams-Bolar today with Rev. Al Sharpton, I think about how this city would have treated Kelley's kids differently if one of their names had been LeBron James. It's shameful that black kids are rewarded for being athletic, but punished for being intelligent.
We must all cheer for Urban Prep like they just won the Super Bowl. They should be given millions more dollars to pursue their objectives. Their educational model should be replicated in every city across America. They are showing us that black men are not destined for failure, fundamentally flawed or built for mediocrity. We truly embody excellence.