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In The Pulpit: Cal State Spreads Gospel Of Higher Education

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Super Sunday program seeks to increase Black enrollment

By Chris Levister 

In conjunction with Black History Month, Black church pulpits around the region are being transformed into recruiting grounds in praise of higher education.

“The future belongs to you and you and you,” said the man standing before the congregation at St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday. “Young people need to be educated to compete in the 21st century.”

The words came not from pastor, Larry Campbell, but the president of California State University Channel Islands, Richard R. Rush.

“Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters when young people come to the university they need to be prepared to succeed.”

The words were a sobering reminder of the troubling number of Blacks (24,000) counted among the roughly 433,000 students registered at CSU campuses last fall.

Rush came to the house of worship as part of the university system’s Super Sunday African American Initiative, a collaboration with Black churches launched five years ago to increase the college readiness and enrollment of African-American students.

On several Sundays in February, Cal State leaders, including the chancellor, campus presidents, trustees and others, appeal to congregations and provide pamphlets outlining the steps to planning and applying for college.

“The initiative builds a culture in the congregation of the expectation of college going,” said, Brenda Odell, a retired educator, member of the St. Paul AME scholarship committee and liaison to the CSU Initiative. St. Paul joined the initiative two years ago.

“It’s been effective because CSU has approached this problem in an open and honest way and put the consequences of not going to college squarely on the table,” said Odell. “It’s important to have an outsider come with such an important message to our kids and their parents.”

The process begins in the sixth and seventh grades, where kids are encouraged to complete a collegepreparatory course and take prealgebra. The process comes to a head in the 12th grade when students are required to take the obligatory entrance exams and apply for financial aid.

“It’s a road map for kids to follow so they’re prepared to be successful,” Rush said.

This year, more than 100 churches statewide will take part in Super Sunday events, with outreach to an estimated 100,000 families, Cal State officials said.

Ray Turner pastor of Temple Missionary Baptist Church in San Bernardino said the initiative including the algebra workshops and education fairs are bearing fruit:

“The greatest benefit has been to see how the program is changing the attitudes of kids in our inner cities who have been led to believe that they don’t have what it takes to go to a four-year institution,” said Turner.

“I was one of those kids. I come from a family of 15 siblings. Only two of us went on to finish college.

So I can relate to the kids and parents sitting in the congregation who have planted in their minds a host of reasons including cost and brain power why they can’t go to college and graduate.”

Turner said the CSU program stimulated the church to acknowledge good students during worship services.

“We call it ‘Who’s in the House’. We ask parents to tell us about their children’s accomplishments in school and around the house. We collect that information and every 2nd Sunday we call those kids up to the front of the church and applaud them and give out certificates,” he said.

“We say to them junior college is a great goal and stepping stone but finishing a four-year college is an even greater goal and accomplishment. Just work hard, get the GPA and we’ll help you get in,” said Turner.

CSU officials said in an ‘accountability report’ handed to parishioners, applications of first time African-American freshmen increased from about 9,700 in 2005 to nearly 16,000 in 2008-09; undergraduate enrollment of African-Americans went from 19,800 to about 22,100 over the same period.

Odell said ironically a kid from St. Paul AME is currently attending CSU Channel Islands.

“Super Sunday is such a positive experience.

It’s encouraging for our young people to see the president of a CSU campus come to our church. It’s outreach in action,” she said.

“I figure we give information on healthcare, nutrition and other life skills so why not use the pulpit to encourage kids and parents to learn about something as important as going to college.”

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