Merlene Davis: Black Males Working program provides a model for success

Herald-Leader columnistMay 31, 2014 

Fifteen high school seniors walked to the podium one by one donning caps etched with the initials of a college or university they plan to attend.

Friends and relatives captured the moment in photos and on video while the 200 in attendance cheered.

You'd think the young men were announcing their intentions to take their athletic skills to a top NCAA school.

Instead, the celebration honored young black men who will be attending a college or university based on their academic prowess.

Wow.

The announcements came during the Academic Signing Day & Luncheon for the graduating seniors who had attended the BMW Academy at First Baptist Church Bracktown.

The schools were Eastern Kentucky University, Middle Tennessee State University, Morehead State University, Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, North Carolina State University, Ohio University, Western Kentucky University and the Advanced Manufacturing Technician Program (AMT) at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

Founded in 2005 by longtime Fayette County public schools educator Roszalyn Akins, Black Males Working (BMW) is a private academic enrichment program for black boys, meeting from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. They are taught math, literacy and foreign languages, and they are tutored in preparation for the ACT and SAT tests. Additionally, they tour various college campuses during the summer months.

The program has been so successful that BMW academies for younger boys have been spawned at the church, as well as the Carter G. Woodson Academy, an intense new program for boys in grades 6-9 at Crawford Middle School.

More than 200 elementary, middle school and high school boys attend the BMW academy. Akins said the average ACT score for black males in Kentucky is 15.8. For BMW participants, ACT scores average 22.4.

The keynote speaker for the luncheon was the Rev. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of the 12,000-member Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.

Referencing the Trayvon Martin shooting death, Haynes said too often black boys are labeled as suspects for no other reason than their attire.

"They are labeled, limited and eliminated," he said.

But black people should light a candle instead of continuously cursing the darkness.

"Start a movement," he said, "a movement like BMW. Make a difference."

He called on churches to do as Bracktown has done: change the statistics that place black males "on the top of everything negative and the bottom of everything positive."

Waving to the young men sitting on the dais with him, Haynes said, "They represent a movement where you make up your mind to refuse to be a negative statistic."

"There is power in knowing who you are," he said. "Don't discover who you are; define who you are. Then spend the rest of your life living up to that. Redefine what it means to be a black man."

In Dallas, Haynes helped create THR!VE Intern & Leadership Program, a summer internship opportunity designed to provide male students with employment opportunities. The program hopes to equip high school students with skills they need to gain professional experience in a variety of career fields.

The program will employ boys and young men at a minimum rate of at least $10 per hour providing experience in fields such as law, health, technology, architecture, aeronautics and business.

Students in the BMW program must have good school attendance, good conduct at home and school, attend Saturday sessions, maintain at least a 2.5 grade-point average, and be willing to improve class work. TV and video game time is limited, replaced by reading.

They have toured various colleges, and some have even toured Europe in recent years.

Those tours broadened one former student's view of the world. George Livingston IV, who graduated from Louisville this spring after attending on a full scholarship, said he was one of the first students to attend BMW in 2005 as an eighth-grader.

After taking the college tours, he said, "I remember how big the world got."

BMW and Akins "gave him the support, exposure and mind-set to succeed," he said.

As they donned the caps and had African stoles draped on their shoulders, each student was handed a copy of Oh, the Places You Will Go! by Dr. Seuss, a book that has become a favorite graduation speech.

Inside, Akins had written a special note to each young man.

"They are special because they have been with us since middle school," Akins said. "Most of them are very grounded. I got them when they were still young and could mold them. And they have a special bond with each other, too."

Haynes said, "The only way black males will rise up is if we all know we have a stake in their success."

I'm willing to do that: Congratulations, young men. Go make me proud.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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