Black Male Leadership Academy Prepares Promising Black Teens for College

BMLA students network with Steve Pemberton, the divisional vice president of Walgreens.

BMLA students network with Steve Pemberton, the divisional vice president of Walgreens.

By Mike Espiritu

Every summer, the Black Male Leadership Academy (BMLA) mentors teens for a few days and helps them develop skills necessary to succeed in college and the real world. 

The St. Clair Drake Center for African American Studies is an institute dedicated to the memory of late Roosevelt University professor, St. Clair Drake. Developed by the St. Clair Drake Center, the BMLA has strong ties to the University’s history and mission. Initially, the Drake Center looked for ways to become active with community outreach. Al Bennett, director of the Drake Center came up with the concept of an annual program that resulted in the BMLA.

For the past two years, the BMLA has reached out to the community in Chicago public high schools. Since the establishment of this program in 2014, 34 teens have been invited to the BMLA Summer Institute. Last summer, the program saw a growing number of students. The program reaches out to promising black teens during their sophomore year in high school, and continues to invite them back until they finish their senior year of high school. This is done to ensure that they have a college selected and are ready for college, or to make sure that the students know their alternatives.

“Of course, our number one goal is to get the students ready to go to college,” said Michael Ford, the director of BMLA. “But sometimes, college isn’t for everyone. We make sure that they understand that there are other options such as 2-year universities and technical colleges.”

The BMLA makes an impact on young black teens in many Chicago high schools. The program allows students to gain real world skills by working closely with the BMLA mentors, and making important connections with RU professors and guest speakers that attend events.

“We try to be role models for the younger students,” said Jason Curry, a special education major and senior at Roosevelt. “It’s kind of like a big brother and little brother relationship where we support them and show them the ropes when it comes to college.

During the program, the students were able to take advantage of a networking event with Walgreens’ divisional vice president, Steve Pemberton. “It was a fantastic experience,” said Christopher Watkins, a junior from Westinghouse High School. “Along with having a college experience by dorming at Roosevelt, we have the opportunity to meet people and get real-world experience.”

Students are invited back to RU on the second Saturday of every month to continue the program during the school year. During these monthly meetings, students receive time dedicated to guidance and mentorship. They participate in half-day sessions on career guidance and development, college applications, ACT preparation classes and even financial advice.

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