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Regalia of Resilience: PBA Grad Reflects on the Power of Education

Palm Beach Atlantic grad Niang Thang smiles for the camera. She has dark long hair and is wearing an ivory blouse.This article was originally published by our grantee partner, Palm Beach Atlantic University. It is shared here with permission.

Palm Beach Atlantic University (PBA) graduate and Fulbright recipient Niang Thang 24 knows a thing or two about the importance of education—though she didnt always believe in it. Over the past seven years, shes seen how higher education, mentorship, and the transformative power of belief can help someone move from feeling stuck to living out their dreams.

Niang Thang lives with her parents, who are immigrants from Myanmar, in West Palm Beach. During her early high school years, Thang struggled with her mental health and some academic challenges.

Thangs parents went into panic mode, unsure of how to respond to their only childs struggles. Their solution? Pray.

They loved and cared for me; they wanted to do what was best,” she shared. They turned to God—they said, We dont know what to do, so the only thing we can do is trust [Him] and His will.’”

Finding Academic Renewal at PBA

A couple of years later, Niang Thang was ready for something more.

Something sparked in me,” she reflected. I wanted to build a future for myself.”

She heard about PBA from her friends sister, who attended the university. Though Niang Thang was reluctant to apply, her friend encouraged her.

A month later, Thang received her acceptance letter.

Thang entered PBA as a freshman in fall 2020, while navigating college life during the COVID-19 pandemic. The second-generation college student says her past experiences of learning how to manage her mental health helped her thrive during the pandemic.

Thang also credits her success to PBAs supportive community. She was particularly moved by the genuine care that faculty and staff demonstrated—especially as she entered PBA with an undeclared major.

When I was trying to choose, I met with my career mentor, Jennifer Fonseca,” she said. She guided me and helped me figure out my major. She had a willingness to help me.”

After diligently researching and identifying programs that best mirrored her passions and goals, Thang chose to study psychology and pursue a chemistry minor. She was also accepted into the Frederick M. Supper Honors Program.

Now, shes the Class of 2024 Outstanding Graduate of the psychology department.

I came into PBA as one person, now Im graduating as another,” Thang said. PBA had a big role in transforming me. I started with nothing—but I felt like I had such potential and big dreams.”

Thang added that she could focus on her academic and career goals thanks to the scholarships she received, including the 2024 Women of Distinction Scholarship, which gives funds to female students who excel in academics, service, and leadership, and the Johnson Scholarshipwhich is distributed to PBA students with demonstrated financial need.

They made it easier [for me] to go to school,” she said. My peers are worried about how to pay for school, or theyre in debt. I dont have to feel burdened because I dont have to work and sacrifice my grades. The scholarships saved me and my parents from that financial burden. I am honored to have been chosen.”

In addition to easing the financial pressures, the scholarships enabled Thang to thrive in a full-time academic routine—which, in turn, helped spark conversations with her parents about her hopes and dreams.

We started talking about my future and my passions,” she shared. They were very open-minded. I would have thought that they wanted me to go into pre-med! But I was comfortable talking with them.”

Looking Ahead: Fulbright and Future Goal

This summer, Thang will embark on a year-long English teaching assistantship to Taiwan under the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Program. Though she wasnt initially planning to apply, a professor urged her to consider it, and she took a leap of faith. Guided by Dr. Carl Miller, associate professor of English and PBA faculty coordinator for the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships, Thang prepared her application last semester while also applying to graduate programs.

Last month, she learned that she received the Fulbright.

Tears started flowing; I was in utter shock. I couldnt believe it,” Thang said, adding that these moments remind her to believe in herself. People would think I was a failure with no future—but there was something in me that said I knew better.”

After her teaching assistantship, Thang wants to continue her education and become a clinical psychologist.

No matter what, I can do and achieve much more,” she reflected. PBA is something special—Ive never encountered people like this. These professors are investing in our lives, and their belief in me [reminded me] that I can thrive. I dont think I would have done as well as I did if I attended another school.”

To learn more about PBA’s psychology and counseling programs, click here.

To watch PBA’s 2024 Commencement recap video, click here

 

Palm Beach Atlantic University is a core grantee partner of JSF. At the bequest of its founders, the Foundation distributes $1.2 million to PBA each year. The funds provide scholarships to qualified students who wish to pursue higher education but cannot otherwise afford to do so.

First-Gen FAU Graduate Uses Accounting to Pay it Forward

First Generation Johnson Transfer Scholar and Florida Atlantic University (FAU) graduate Christopher Gonzalez believes helping others can make a big difference in someone’s life. After experiencing it firsthand, he was inspired to do the same for others.

Gonzalez grew up in Hialeah, Florida. His parents are Cuban immigrants, and every year during tax season, he joined his mom on outings to their CPA to file taxes.

“The [CPA] was so helpful,” he says. “She spoke fluent Spanish and would talk to us and show us how bills or [anything else] would affect the tax return. It always helped, because I feel like every dollar counted.”

For his family, education was always highly regarded.

“They knew that me getting an education would be very important—like typical parents, they wanted me to be a doctor,” he laughs. “They wanted me to do good in school, and growing up, [they] made sure I was completing my homework and doing well in classes.”

Those CPA meetings, combined with Gonzalez’s affinity for math and numbers, helped him decide what he wanted to do with his life.

“It always piqued my interest, and I felt like I could do this someday to help other families,” he says.

With a goal to pursue accounting, he started his higher education career at Palm Beach State College (PBSC)—partly because he loved Palm Beach County and partly because his father lived in West Palm Beach.

“I fell in love with the area, so I moved to West Palm Beach on my own and enrolled at PBSC,” he says. 

After receiving his associates degree, he transferred to FAU in 2021 with a spot in the accounting scholars program. He was also accepted to the very first cohort of FAUs Johnson Transfer Scholars Program, which aims to improve the retention, matriculation, graduation and career readiness of first-generation transfer students.

Gonzalez says the scholarship enabled him to worry less about finances and focus on his studies.

“The events I went to also got me out of my comfort zone,” he recalls. “At PBSC I would park, go to class, and then get back to my car and leave. I started to enjoy going to these events [at FAU] and hearing other people’s stories.”

Christopher Gonzalez (front row, third from left) with other Florida Atlantic University Johnson Scholars and JSF board members, staff and consultants, during a JSF site visit in March 2023.

He was even invited to attend lunch with the Johnson Scholarship Foundation in March 2023, where he was able to share his journey with JSF staff, board members, and consultants.

In addition to easing the financial burden, Gonzalez believes the scholarship program’s mentorship offerings contributed to his success.

When he first began at FAU, he was assigned a mentor, whom he met five times per semester to ensure he was on track with his goals. He also met with the career development team to review his résumé, go over job interview questions, and make sure he was prepared for future career opportunities.

“It was good to know I had someone to reach out to if I had any questions or concerns,” Gonzalez says. “FAU offers a lot of resources, but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Knowing there was someone specifically assigned to help was great. It felt easy to ask for help—and if [my mentor] couldnt help me, he would connect me with someone or share resources.”

Gonzalez graduated with his bachelor’s in accounting in December 2023. This August, he will begin a fellowship at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), one of the Big Four accounting firms. While at PwC, he’ll be working toward his masters through the DAmore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University. 

When he thinks about his future, Gonzalez says he wants to help as many people as possible, especially families and single parents. 

His advice to others who want to chase their dreams? Set a goal and keep moving forward.

“Never give up or fall into the pressures of what a normal college path looks like,” he advises. “It took me six years to get my associates. If you take one step forward, its still one step closer to where you’re meant to go.”

Providence St. Mel Student Earns 36 on ACT

This article was originally published in the Johnson Scholarship Foundation’s 2023 annual report about Providence St. Mel School, a grantee partner of the foundation. Click here to read more content from the annual report.

Mario Hoover earned the nickname “Mr. 36” from achieving a perfect ACT score in 2022. He was the first student at Providence St. Mel School (PSM) to earn the accomplishment. 

Located on Chicago’s West Side, Providence St. Mel has offered preschool through high school students a high-quality education for more than four decades. JSF provides a matching grant for the school’s Paul J. Adams III Purple & Gold Scholarship Fund. The fund, named after Chicago civil rights activist, educator, and PSM founder, offers vital financial and academic support to economically disadvantaged students during their middle and high school years.

“I never imagined I would get a perfect score,” Hoover said to ABC7 Chicago—one of several interviews in which he participated. “To me, it means doing the best that I can to boost my academic career and professional career to inspire others to do the same.” 

Hoover began attending PSM in the third grade after his public elementary school closed. Christel Ward, PSM’s dean of students, recalls having him in class. 

“To me, it means doing the best that I can to boost my academic career and professional career to inspire others to do the same.”

 

“I watched Mario grow up and excel,” said Ward, who has worked at PSM for over 25 years. “Because of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, we’ve been able to help students excel and get ready for college.” 

Following that top ACT score, Hoover kept pursuing his studies. The summer before his senior year, Hoover attended a two-week program at the University of Oxford to study neuroscience. 

A PSM student works on an assignment in the classroom during a site visit from the JSF team in September 2023.

In addition to achieving a perfect ACT score and a 3.9 GPA, Hoover participated in PSM’s concert choir and on the track and debate teams. He also tutored social studies and English and volunteered at a nearby hospital and the local Boys & Girls Club. During his senior year, he competed in the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) State Series for solo and ensemble, earning a Division I rating and an IHSA All-State Honorable Mention. He also advanced to the Chicago regional finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which introduces students to the 20th-century playwright and his American Century Cycle through workshops and masterclasses. 

Now, Hoover is a freshman at the University of Chicago, a top research institution, on a full scholarship. He’s majoring in neuroscience and pursuing a minor in music. His hard work and accomplishments exemplify the power of education and Providence St. Mel’s commitment to its students—including those who may not be able to afford a private school education. 

“Education changes lives,” said Ward. “It isn’t just an investment in yourself. You’re using that tool to make a difference somewhere else—individually, in your school, or in your community. Change is about not staying where you were. It’s progress.”

First-Generation College Grad Helps University of Florida Students Reach for Success

Growing up, Cherrelle “Elle” Collins dreamed of going to college like she saw on TV. She also wanted a career that would help people. Now as a first-generation college graduate, she’s living out her dream—empowering historically low-income, first-gen students at the University of Florida to reach for success like she did.

As director of the nationally recognized Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars (MFOS) Program—which JSF helps support through a matching grant—Collins works hard to ensure each student receives individualized attention and mentoring as they experience college life.

But without her own mentors guiding her along the way, she may not have pursued helping others through access work. 

Collins shares that her childhood was a mix of challenges and aspirations.

“College wasn’t something we talked about around the dinner table or dreamed about at a young age,” she explains. “I always felt inspiration from people who look like me on TV—series like The Cosby Show and how those people navigated college with success. That sparked this idea of college, and it took root in my mind as a possibility.” 

Thankfully, Collins had an army of mentors and educators supporting her during her elementary and teenage years. 

“I think about my fifth-grade English teacher and my cheer and dance coaches, who told me they saw potential in me,” she says.

As high school graduation neared, Collins and her mother began having serious conversations about her future. 

That got Collins thinking: Who did she want to be? She knew she wanted to go to college, but believed her educational outcomes needed to outweigh the cost of tuition. So, Collins focused on surgical technology, beginning her higher education journey at Niagara County Community College, outside of Buffalo, New York. In 2012, she received her associate’s degree before attending the State University of New York at Buffalo (UB) as a nursing major.

But along the way, conversations with UB administrators and professors stirred something more in Collins.

“They helped me see my potential,” she recalls. “I thought there was only one way out—I had to [study] medicine or engineering to save my family from poverty. I recognized through those mentors that I could lean into what I was passionate about. And I wanted to be in a helping profession.”

Elle Collins at University of Florida. Photo courtesy of UF Student Life, by Matt August.

These fruitful discussions helped Collins realize she could help students with stories similar to hers. So, she switched her major to health and human services and graduated in 2014. She then pursued a master’s degree in higher education administration at UB. 

During that time, she also served as assistant director for college success initiatives at Say Yes Buffalo, which helps remove educational and employment barriers for students in area public and charter schools. While there, she helped open college success centers in over 20 high schools. 

It was the start of her dream career.

Sadly, something tragic happened in her first year of grad school. Collins lost her mother. 

“Everything reminded me of what I was going through,” she shares. “My mom, who was a woman of faith, always instilled this idea that you can run from something or you can run to something. You can sit in the pain and the grief—or use it to fuel your next thing.” 

Collins took that advice to heart, determined to start a new chapter. She began job searching in the spring of 2016, just before graduation.

“I didn’t see myself in New York anymore—I thought being home would help me get through grief, but I realized I needed to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she says. “I widened my search and started to look for other places that could give me something different.”

Collins searched with a specific idea in mind: the chance to work at a big university. 

“I wanted the sports, the bands, Greek life—those things my smaller schools up north didn’t have,” she explains. “As I went through the interview process at the University of Florida, [it felt] conversational. I could be myself. As I walked around, it gave me the feeling of what I saw growing up—what I thought college was like.”

In the fall of 2016, she moved from New York to Gainesville after accepting a housing and residence life position at UF. Less than nine months into her position, she was promoted from resident director to area coordinator. 

However, it didn’t take long before Collins told her supervisor that she was interested in transitioning into access and community work at the university. She was introduced to Dr. Leslie Pendleton, the senior director of the MFOS Program at the time. Collins says the program, a full financial need scholarship that assists historically low-income first-generation college students pursue education at UF, reminded her of a first-generation scholarship she received while at UB.

“I was encouraged to collaborate with and learn from her,” says Collins, who joined the MFOS team as director in 2022.

She says her work with Say Yes Buffalo and UF housing uniquely prepared her for her current role.

“They allowed me to hone in on leadership, communications skills, problem-solving, and strategic thinking,” she shares. “I understood not every Gator had the same experience, and we need to take an individualized approach. Housing is crisis management, it’s 24/7! I lived where I worked—so there was a deeper understanding of student needs.”

She describes her MFOS role as dynamic and fulfilling, especially when meeting with students, staff, and faculty or collaborating on new initiatives that enhance students’ experiences.

“Not every program will fit the needs of every student, so I want us to think deeply about enhancing that experience. What do first-year students need? They need help with transitions, [knowing] how to study the curriculum as a college student, and building community. Second-year students need help with their major declaration and doing more through leadership or service on campus. And the third- and fourth-year students are [navigating] that transition out.”

Each year, the MFOS Program serves over 1,600 individuals. The network is composed of about 6,000 students, including alumni and current students.

She believes the program is successful because of the approach to tailored support and a team of people with unwavering dedication to student success.

For Collins, working in the department is also a full-circle moment. 

“It’s an honor to give back and speak to the little version of myself,” she explains. “I see myself represented in many of the students’ stories, so giving back to a program that has played a similar role [in my life] is unexplainable.”

Her advice to Machen scholars? Believe in yourself, never underestimate the power of your dreams, and own your story. 

“I remember a time when I wasn’t always proud of [my story],” she says. “I believe that for many students who identify as first-generation or limited income, there can be a lot of shame associated with their journeys. Shame about leaving home, shame about not knowing all the answers, shame about upbringing. I believe there is power in owning our stories and sharing them more broadly to impact and change the trajectories of communities, systems, and structures.”

One Man, One Little School, One Big Dream

This article was originally published on Sept. 15, 2023 by John W. Fountain, Providence St. Mel School class of 1978 alum, as a birthday tribute to the school’s founder, Paul J. Adams III. It is shared here with permission.

A photo of the Providence St. Mel School gym, which has the words "We Believe" painted on the brick.

Two words emblazoned across the wall of the gym at Providence St. Mel embody the school’s spirit, “We Believe.” Photo by John Fountain.

Grass, emerald-green, lush and alive. Proud blades that point toward the sky. Perfectly manicured, this grass glistens beneath the sun. That was nearly 45 years ago.

And yet, for as far as I could see the other morning, standing outside the yellowish-brick castle in the 100 block of South Central Park Avenue on Chicago’s West Side, the grass still shimmers in the wind and golden sunlight—a simple symbol of promise, pride and hope, more than four decades since I first laid my eyes on it.

I don’t recall exactly the first time I saw the lawn outside Providence St. Mel, or Paul J. Adams, III—the man responsible. It must have been sometime in 1974—back when Afros and bell-bottom pants were signs of the times and the struggle to lay hold on the American dream still seemed ever elusive for Blacks in America, and we were singing James Brown’s “Say it loud, I’m Black and I’m proud.” What I do recall clearly is the notion that grass wouldn’t—couldn’t—grow on the West Side: too poor, too ghetto, too far from the fertile soil from which sprouts the stuff of American dreams.

Back then, in neighborhoods like Chicago’s impoverished K-Town, where I grew up and had been dubbed by the Chicago Tribune as part of America’s permanent underclass, the “American Millstone,” there was plenty of evidence to suggest that might be the case: broken glass, bald lawns and vacant lots, blight, poverty and despair that flowed like a river of hopelessness.

Back then, I remember the sprinklers outside Providence, the crystal spray that doused Mr. Adams’ lawn endlessly. How, as a high school freshman, I quickly learned one of his most important rules: Don’t step on the grass, or else pay a fine.

To some, it might have seemed ridiculous or severe to impose a penalty for something so infinitesimal. It might also have seemed difficult to fathom how something as simple as grass might be proof enough that some things others deem impossible—with a little planting, watering and vision—might indeed become possible.

Paul J. Adams III at JSF's Chicago reception for grantee partners in September 2023. He is wearing a black suit and has short, dark curly hair and a goatee.

Paul J. Adams III at JSF’s Chicago reception for grantee partners in September 2023.

As a poor kid whose father had deserted me by the time I was 4, I was the kind who, like many children from similar backgrounds today, was written off by researchers, given my demographics of having been born Black and poor, and raised in the urban ghetto—hopelessly predestined to an unalterable mortal existence, never to rise. Without my mother’s decision and sacrifice in 1974 to send me to Providence St. Mel, which set me on a different path than so many of my childhood friends, I might have succumbed to the death of dreams that eventually entombs those dreams too long deferred. Maybe not.

This much is not debatable: That for more than four decades, Paul Adams and Providence St. Mel has helped lead poor Chicago children to the Promised Land of educational success and that since 1978 every one of the school’s graduates has been admitted to a college or university.

This much is also clear these days:

That for at least the last 45 years, the Chicago Public School system has largely wandered in the wilderness of “miseducation” and still has yet to fully cross the sea of red-tape bureaucracy occupied by a union that often seems more concerned for teachers than students, and by bureaucrats who, by their failure to fix the system after all this time, leave me wondering whether they ever really want to.

At 13, I saw Paul Adams as a lion of a man, his proud woolen Afro as his mane, and every square inch of Providence, including every blade of grass, as his domain. More importantly, I found inside the school’s walls a safe-haven from the perilous streets of my neighborhood. I found educational opportunity and the expectation of success. I found through one man’s vision sufficiency to dream. In Adams, I saw a Black man filled to the brim with integrity, character and commitment. An unyielding Black man who was not only willing to stand for the education and future of Black children, but also willing to fight, even to give his life for our good.

He turns 83 today.

‘Last Dollar Aid’ Helps Students Cross the Graduation Finish Line

Nativity Prep’s Last Dollar Aid Program has continued to be made possible by the generosity of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. The Last Dollar Aid program provides tuition assistance to alumni in college who face gaps in scholarships and expected family contributions. Since its inception, Last Dollar Aid has an incredible impact with a 94 percent graduation rate, far higher than the national average for similar demographics.

Each year the Graduate Support team works extensively with alumni who are seniors in high school and in college to support them in a variety of ways. Alumni who are entering into and enrolled in college can apply to the Last Dollar Aid Program. If accepted, they must maintain a set GPA, be in regular contact with our Graduate Support team, and attend at least two Nativity events per year.

Here are some highlights of two Last Dollar Aid recipients:

Allen is a current senior at the University of Massachusetts Boston who has taken advantage of much of what UMass has to offer. He shared that Last Dollar Aid helped make it possible for him to take part in an amazing opportunity – Recalc Academy’s Finance Accelerator program, a 7-week program for students from diverse backgrounds to receive expert training on skills needed for banking, consulting, and private equity. Allen is exploring his options in the finance world and recently landed a job offer at UBS.

Isaiah is a recent graduate of Framingham State University where he studied finance. Isaiah returned to work with the Advancement Team at Nativity before landing a job at JLL, a real estate and investment management firm.  For Isaiah, the importance of Last Dollar Aid was not only financial but kept him in touch with Nativity for support to persist in college.

As we continue to empower and support boys from Boston in pursuing elite high school and college educations, we are grateful for the incredible support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation.


Brittany Yapp is Associate Director of Annual Fund and Communications at Nativity Preparatory School.

 

Promise and Transformation

Nativity Preparatory School of Boston recently hosted its inaugural Nativity Promise Dinner with the theme of “Our Promise. Their Future. Your Impact.” The event convened Nativity’s committed benefactors, supporters and allies for an evening dedicated to the idea of the “Nativity Promise.” To set the scene for the evening, Nativity released a new video featuring students, alumni and staff describing the life-long impact of the Nativity Promise.

At Nativity, we believe that all children deserve an education that opens doors and provides the foundation to thrive. For many young men of color from low-income families, society falls short. We’ve made a promise to them and their families.

Our Promise: We promise to always believe in and invest in the incredible potential of boys from low-income Boston communities to become successful, compassionate “men for others” through the opportunity of education.

Their Future: Empowered by a high-quality, full-scholarship Jesuit education and resourced by an extensive Graduate Support program, our alumni thrive in school, career, and service to their families, communities, businesses, and the world.

Your Opportunity for Impact: The generous and dedicated support of organizations like the Johnson Scholarship Foundation helps fulfill this promise and has a transformative impact on the lives of these young men.

Kevin Sullivan is the Assistant Director of Advancement at Nativity Prep Boston. With a background in communications, his work focuses on sharing stories about Jesuit education’s mission to increase equity and access.

Health Events Among Highlights of African Heritage Month at Dalhousie

In 1988, Nova Scotia first recognized Black History Month. Thirty years later the tradition continues with African Heritage Month being recognized and celebrated in communities, by organizations and in our postsecondary institutions across the province.

Flag raising Dalhousie 2018

Photos: Dalhousie University

On Feb. 1, Dalhousie University launched a month of events with the raising of the Pan-African (or Marcus Garvey) flag to reflect and honour this year’s theme of “BLACK EXCELLENCE: COMMUNITY TO ACADEMIA.”

Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) was recognized for its dedication and contribution to the success of Black students in health, among other pioneering pathway programs such as Dalhousie’s Transition Year Program, Indigenous Black & Mi’kmaq Initiative (in law school), Black Educators Association’s Math Camp and Imhotep’s Legacy Academy.

Woman sitting in a chair in front of bannerIn keeping with the theme of Black Excellence, PLANS joined the Africentric Learning Institute and the Health Association of African Canadians in welcoming Dr. Clotilda Yakimchuk to share her story to the community and aspiring nurses as one of Nova Scotia’s first Black nurses.

Dr. Yakimchuk shared stories of her journey – from failing grade seven and taking that as a lesson to work hard, facing racism and standing strong as patients refused to be cared by a Black woman, and being elected the first Black president of the Registered Nurses Association in Nova Scotia in its 100-year history.  During her training, Dr. Yakimchuk did not see many others that looked like her, but was pleased to hear that more students of African descent are considering the nursing profession – one she enjoyed very much.  It was a pleasure to sit with Dr. Yakimchuk and she is an inspiration to all.

To close the month, PLANS is supporting Black health events with the student-led groups: Atlantic Association of Aspiring Black Physicians, Community of Black Students in Nursing, and Health Association of African Canadian-Student Organization as they aim to educate, build community and strive for excellence within themselves.

Students at Dalhousie summer campPLANS is now recruiting youth for its summer programming which has grown with support from the Johnson Scholarship Foundation. In its fifth year, the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp will see students from across Nova Scotia learn more about postsecondary options, health careers and meet new friends as the camps are held at three Nova Scotian universities.

Michelle Patrick is the program manager for Promoting Leadership in Health for African Nova Scotians (PLANS) – supporting people of African descent on their journey to education and a career in health. Her favorite PLANS program is the African Nova Scotian Health Science Summer Camp that has expanded to more institutions across Nova Scotia and is reaching an increasing number of youth. She is a community volunteer with the Health Association of African Canadians and the Community Health Board.

Civil Rights Legacy Shapes Mission at Providence St. Mel

In 1966, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. moved into an apartment in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood — less than a mile from where Providence St. Mel stands — to protest housing inequality, segregation and poverty in this embattled community. A few short years later, Paul J. Adams III, the founder of Providence St. Mel School, moved from Alabama to that same neighborhood in Chicago to make a difference. Mr. Adams shares that his life’s work and the mission of Providence St. Mel are inspired by the Civil Rights Movement.

Photo of students at Providence St. MelMr. Adams remembers how Dr. King impacted his path as a young man. “In 1955, I met Dr. King. That same year Emmett Till was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River near Money, Mississippi, and Rosa Parks sat down on a bus. At that time, I was the same age as Emmett Till. I remember walking home and feeling the sweat run down my hand thinking that could have been me fished out of that river. The events of that year shaped my life. They set me on my road to whatever I was going to do. There is not a day I wake up that I don’t think about Emmett Till.”

Many of the societal woes that Dr. King protested still strangle this west side Chicago community, yet Providence St. Mel remains a beacon of hope. Since 1978, 100 percent of our students have graduated from high school and have been accepted into four-year colleges and universities. Many students begin their time at Providence St. Mel with significant academic deficits and personal obstacles, but we know that when given high expectations, support and proper instruction, all students can achieve.

Adams on playgroundOur mission is shaped by the legacy of the Civil Rights movement and the drive to challenge young people to reach their full potential. Mr. Adams notes, “Without a proper education, a person is doomed.  If we can provide the right environment, our children will enter these doors and feel free to learn and prosper.”

During his more than 40 years impacting the west side Chicago community, Mr. Adams has received countless awards and recognition for his work improving the community. Most recently, on Feb. 13, he received The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award from The Leaders Network, a collaboration of clergy and community stakeholders in Chicago.

The mission statement of Providence St. Mel that students recite each morning states, “we believe in the creation of inspired lives produced by the miracle of hard work” and “we believe one must earn the right to dream.” The determined students at Providence St. Mel understand that the dreams of the Civil Rights movement must come through determination, hard work and education.

Senior Jalen F.Students recognize the connections between the school’s mission and the importance of honoring Black History by investing in black futures.

“Our school’s mission statement is essentially what Black History means to me,” shares senior Jalen F. “Every morning is a reminder to look at ourselves when we commit to ‘take this place, this time and this people and make a better place, better time and better people. You can’t say those words and not think of our ancestors’ sacrifices.”

Walking the ‘Last Mile’ Through Graduate Support

Providing low-income, minority boys from Boston with the rigorous, affordable education that they deserve is part of our daily work at Nativity Preparatory School.

However, we see — as do the Johnson Scholarship Foundation and many in the education world —  the serious need to help bridge “the last mile” for disadvantaged students. Progress in this area continues, but it must have the end goal in mind. We should applaud a test score improvement in our middle schools, but what if that doesn’t translate to high school success? We should celebrate a formerly-struggling student’s college acceptance, but what if they can’t afford to ever complete a degree?

Young students raising their hands in classAt Nativity Prep — profiled by JSF President and CEO Malcolm Macleod in a post titled “Small, but Mighty” — a crucial part of our vision and model is bridging that “last mile” through investing in graduate support.

Staffed by two full-time professionals, our Graduate Support Office (GSO) offers targeted resources and programming to ensure that the academic growth, character formation and call to service of our graduating students is supported and encouraged through high school, college and beyond. Our results so far have been a 99 percent high school graduation rate, 84 percent college enrollment rate, and 64 percent college graduation rate, but we know that collaboration with others and sharing best practices can help us all do even better.

Here’s what our program looks like:

Academic: Going from our small, structured and supportive environment to elite, academically-challenging independent schools is a big transition. The GSO provides regular tutoring sessions and academic advising to our high school and college alumni. Each April, roughly 50 percent of each high school junior class takes advantage of our free college visit tour of top regional schools.

Two young men standing in front of a treeFinancial: Despite working with high schools and colleges to get the best financial aid for our graduates, gaps as small as a few hundred dollars can be insurmountable for some families. Our Last Dollar Aid program fills those gaps, while a partnership with Nebraska Book Company, Inc. helps ensure that steep textbook costs don’t get in the way of academic success.

Social: Social transitions can also be difficult when minority students are so underrepresented in independent and higher education. Nativity Prep is always an open and safe space for our alumni, many of whom can be found visiting teachers and old friends each day. The GSO regularly checks in and visits with students to provide mentorship, remind them of available resources and let them know that the Nativity community is there for them. Connecting graduating 8th graders or high schoolers with other Nativity alumni at their new schools often provides a friendly face in a new environment.

Career: Tapping into our generous circle of supporters, Board members and volunteers in Boston, we regularly offer internship opportunities and networking connections for alumni to explore career options. Social capital can often be just as valuable as “educational capital.

Three men hugging each otherAlumni Engagement: At the end of the day, our alumni are brothers for life. We make sure we provide regular opportunities for alumni to gather, share challenges and celebrate one other!

As students move through primary, secondary and higher education, one educational institution can never provide all of the support and answers. Investing in graduate support and building a life-long community is our way of walking with them on the “last mile” of their educational journey.