Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Black Star Project Site Visit

So this morning I had the opportunity to visit The Black Star Project, a multifaceted organization led by Philip Jackson that aims to accomplish nothing less than eliminate the racial achievement gap. In their own words, their mission is "to provide educational services that help pre-school through college students succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities. Additionally, we help students aspire to post-secondary educational opportunities and training while exploring careers that will be emotionally, intellectually and financially rewarding."

They try to accomplish this by offering the following services:
The Toyota/Black Star Parent University, which was created to address a long-standing challenge: "parents who need additional support to build stronger families and ensure the proper education of their children. Local parenting experts, who serve as “professors,” teach courses that range from educating parents about resolving their childrens' conflicts to developing their children's financial literacy."

The Student Motivation Program, "a classroom-based mentoring program, has been working in Chicago area schools since 1996 to inspire and motivate students to do well in school, expose students to various college and career options, encourage students towards healthy and positive lives, and help students to create viable life plans and make good decisions." While at the center I met with the program coordinator, Mr. Ivory Harris, who informed me that they are currently operating in 50 schools, with around 200 volunteers who offer to come in and speak at schools at least once a month. However, the number of children reached by this programming could easily be doubled if they were able to recruit more volunteer motivators.

The Silas B. Purnell Destination College Program, "created in 1997, provides earlier exposure to college options and creates the expectation in students that a college education is vital to their future success. Destination College Workshops and Destination College Campus Tours provide opportunities for 7th- through 12th-grade students to learn tips for college success from current college students." This is something I'm very interested in looking more into (along with our College Program Counselors Carla and Stephanie), since with the recent development of our own College Zone and College Assistance Program we are always interested in learning and sharing best practices.

The Fathers Club organizes monthly outings for children and their fathers, grandfathers, foster fathers, stepfathers, uncles, cousins, big brothers and other significant male caregivers. Members of the Fathers Club are committed to being better fathers for their families, better role models for their children, better husbands for their wives, and making a difference in their communities. They also coordinate the Million Father March, which encourages Fathers to walk their kids to school on the first day. Last year over 600,000 fathers participated, marching in 475 cities. This year they are planning on expanding it to 550 cities!

The Barbara Ann Sizemore Forums for Educational Excellence are "a way to properly involve parents, families, citizens, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, businesses, elected officials, civic leaders, educators and bring them together to address timely and important educational issues that are facing educators, students, parents and communities today." These forums are designed to bridge the chasm between schools, homes and communities and often take place in local churches, trying to bring faith communities out in force to support youth development and play an active role in improving the community at large.

and finally... The Black Star Scholars Tutoring Program which includes free after-school tutoring at around 20 schools around the city, including Jenner Academy, where I met Black Star Founder Phillip Jackson at a community partner appreciation banquet. They also operate a private one-on-one tutoring option at their Bronzeville facility which is $25 for 2 hours with a reduced cost for students qualifying for free/reduced lunch.

However, I came to Black Star Project not during a tutoring session, but to witness Mr Jackson broker a partnership with the US Marine Corps wherein the military recruiters mobilize their ranks to come into the schools as tutors and the strong, disciplined male role models that the 70% of black children who grow up fatherless lack, allowing Black Star to expand their reach into more communities with greater effectiveness. Mr. Jackson views this as a potential model to be replicated with the other 3 branches of the armed forces across the US, connecting thousands of disciplined, respectful and knowledgable males with at-risk kids lacking such a figure in their lives.

It is important to note, however, that some of these marine recruiters who will be coming into the schools with Black Star as tutors will have been denied admission in the past due to concerned parents and students, worried about impressionable young people being cajoled into giving their life to the military, so to assume complete benevolance on behalf of the military is probably a bit naive, but in the ranking officer at the meeting's own words: "I see the Marine Corps as more than bodysnatchers for war, we are members of your communities, we want to get involved in schools to share our professionalism, character, strength and discipline." So, there are arguments on both sides, and faced with the slim options of a life on the streets or in poverty, sending in the Marines could prove to be beneficial.

Luckily it looks like we're going to have a chance to beginning discussing this idea in depth as Mr. Jackson has agreed to address the issue at our May Tutor/Mentor Conference, coming up this May 28th and 29th at The Northwestern School of Law. Until then, share your thoughts on the issue by commenting on this article or through the poll on the top right of the screen.

---quoted passages can be found in their entirity on

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