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Black Press Push for Social Media Presence

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By Richette L. Haywood, NNPA Contributor –

St. Thomas, VI – Black newspaper publishers attending the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) Mid-Winter Conference know what they want. Their focus was on how the Black Press can and should use social media networks to drive awareness of the Black Press as a brand, develop an enhanced digital engagement with Black America, and develop stronger partnerships with advertisers and its readership.

“The rise of social media networks like Facebook and Twitter has given print media a unique opportunity to develop even deeper relationships with our audience and marketing partners,” said Dorothy R. Leavell, chair of the NNPA Foundation. “This event is designed to explore all the possibilities that social networks offer newspapers. Newspapers excel at attracting communities of like-minded users and this event will help newspapers take community building to the next level.” Reaching that next level has been a difficult undertaking for traditional print industry, as both minority and mainstream publications struggle financially to hold on to their print market while competing in a digital age.

Reader interest start, where it has always started, said Eric Easter, an AT&T consultant and print journalist from Washington, D.C. “It’s all about the story, first,” said Easter. Deciding what is the best way to tell the story does not mean changing a publication’s brand or voice. “You don’t need to stop being who you are,” said Easter. “The key is to find out ways to engage (readers) on a daily basis. You have to understand your audience to expand.”

To accomplish that goal, AT&T consultant and owner of Capitol Consulting Group, Kevin Parker communicated to publishers that they have to “integrate being the most trusted voice in Black America” into its presence on the internet. “They need to figure out how to make the social networks work for them and they need to find out where their readers are (from a digital perspective).” Most importantly, Parker said, newspapers must target and capture a more youthful demographic.

Scott Davis, publisher of The Nashville Pride newspaper and one of the younger members of the association, said he will incorporate strategies discussed during the workshops into his newspaper’s operation. “I have a popular entertainment and sports writer. We will be looking to translate his stories (online). Social networking gives us another reach our community and I am excited about that.”

Keeping that enthusiasm alive among its members is critical, said NNPA Chair Danny J. Bakewell, Sr. “We are helping each other to grow into this next phase. We want to make sure we have value added workshops to take us into the future.”

Staying true to its conference theme - Value, Trust & Influence – the four-day event attracted corporate sponsors, including General Motors and Ford, both of whom have undergone their own financial issues. “Business is about relationships and understanding what our needs are. And, hopefully, we can find solutions that would work for both of us,” said Eric Peterson, Vice President of Diversity at General Motors.

Held in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, the conference kick-off event was the NNPA Chairman’s Reception, hosted by Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., which was attended by past and present government officials. The hospitality of St. Thomas was extended to the NNPA by John P. de Jongh, Jr., governor of the Virgin Islands who hosted a reception at the governor’s mansion.

Interview with Civil Rights Icon Charlayne Hunter-Gault

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By A. David Dahmer, Special to the NNPA from The Madison Times –

Charlayne Hunter-Gault did not plan on becoming a civil rights hero. She just wanted to go to school. But, her own personal courage and determination to exercise her right to a public educational facility 50 years ago this week made her just that.

Civil rights history-maker Charlayne Hunter-Gault will visit Madison to serve as keynote speaker for the 26th Annual City-County King Holiday Observance on Monday, Jan. 17, at the Overture Center Capital Theater. Hunter-Gault has earned acclaim in her career as an award-winning journalist, both on television and in print. She is known for her work in Johannesburg, South Africa as National Public Radio’s chief correspondent in Africa and later for her work as CNN’s Johannesburg bureau chief. Her awards are numerous, including two Emmys and a Peabody for her work on “Apartheid’s People,” a NewsHour series on South Africa.

She took some time away from the 50th anniversary of the desegregation of the University of Georgia (UGA) festivities recently to chat with The Madison Times from her home in Athens, Ga. That tense and very chaotic first day of school at UGA, she still remembers like it was yesterday.

Interested in journalism, a young Charlayne Hunter wanted to attend a college with a strong journalism program. In Georgia this meant the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, which in the early ‘60s did not admit African Americans. Fifty years ago this week, an impeccably dressed teenager walked through an angry mob of screaming and howling White students to attend her first day of classes at the University of Georgia, breaking the long-existing color barrier at that school. At the time, Hunter-Gault was taking on more than just those students, she was taking on the entire state of Georgia.

“That atmosphere was quite charged,” remembers Hunter-Gault. “I actually think that it wasn't a lot of students who were doing all of the yelling of racial epithets. It just seemed that way. I think a lot of the students were just curious. But, there was enough of them making noise.”

On Jan. 9, 1961, the University of Georgia accepted its first two Black students — Hamilton Holmes and Hunter-Gault. On that first day at the school, Holmes and his father, and Hunter-Gault and her mother had no security escort as they walked on campus with their lawyer Vernon Jordan, who gained respect as a civil rights activist and later a close adviser to former President Bill Clinton.

“It was a very busy time because we began our enrollment in the morning and the judge who ordered us in suddenly gave a stay of the order so we had to stop registering,” Hunter-Gault remembers. “Halfway through that day we were re-ordered in by another judge and we managed to get through the crowd and finish registering.”

That night, a mob rioted and chanted outside of her dormitory room. It took a suspiciously long time for the police to get there to disperse the students, Hunter-Gault remembers.

“Ultimately, they had to use tear gas. I had heard this '2-4-6-8... We don't want to integrate.... cha, cha, cha, cha' all night long. That first night, I would eventually go to sleep with that peculiar lullaby in the background. The next night, when I expected the same thing, a brick came through my window and I thought, 'Well, this changes things!'”

The university came in and made the decision to suspend her for her own safety. “But, the next day our lawyers went to court and got us readmitted,” she remembers.

Hunter-Gault's struggles to attend classes at the University of Georgia shone a national light brightly on an inherently racist system and bigoted society and was a huge event in the civil rights movement. Did Hunter-Gault realize the magnitude of what she was doing at the time or was she too young to appreciate fully what was transpiring? “I was a pretty mature 19-year-old, but I couldn't imagine that 50 years later we would be having the kind of celebration that we are having,” Hunter-Gault says. “Without being falsely modest, at the time our principal concern was not so much making history, but entering the state university — which we were entitled to — in order to realize our dreams.”

For the ambitious Holmes and Hunter, their goal wasn't to attend Atlanta's Georgia State, as their legal team suggested — but instead to go to the state's flagship school. After all, UGA offered the best pre-med and journalism courses in the state.

“ [Hamilton Holmes] could have gotten the basic education he needed at Morehouse [University], which he loved, [but] the university [of Georgia] had the facilities par excellence and they were facilities that were enabled by the taxes of our parents,” says Hunter-Gault. “So, we felt pretty much entitled to attend the University of Georgia.”

Unfortunately, there were many that didn't harbor those same sentiments at the time including the governor, the regents, the legislature, and the judiciary, and the university system of Georgia. The university did everything conceivable and possible — legal and illegal — to keep them out. But they could not.

“As time went on, we began to recognize the breadth of this and the impact in the larger society,” Hunter-Gault says. “But, when we first decided to do it, it wasn't with the idea of making history nor did we even think about being exposed to the kind of hatred and venom and even the rioting that took place outside of my dormitory the second night I was on campus.”

This week, Hunter-Gault returned to Mahler Auditorium at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education to give speeches to mark the 50th anniversary of when she and Hamilton Holmes, who passed away in 1995, became the university's first two Black students. She took part in roundtable discussions on racial issues that she hopes will turn into a year-long series of television and radio programs, and ultimately even a college course. The 50th anniversary festivities allowed her to meet many eager young people — some more knowledgeable about the Civil Rights Movement than others.

“I think for the most part it’s kind of ancient history for a lot of them. I spoke with some students and I mentioned SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee] and they were like, 'What was SNCC?'” Hunter-Gault laughs. “But, that's what I will be talking about today — the importance of history and why we must preserve memories. From everything I was able to see last night at the opening reception, where we had an attendance that was just mind-blowing, there were so many students, Black and White, who came up to me and hugged me and thanked me for what I had done.”

Hunter-Gault says that it's important that we understand and learn from our past as we continue to fight and struggle in the future.

“We do make progress, if those who believe in justice continue to fight in whatever way they are equipped to fight,” she says. “There are enough positives in our struggle for freedom and dignity and justice and equality that should inspire us no matter what the challenge is, but we can be more empowered and encouraged to fight those fights if we look at the battles that we've fought in the past and won. “You know, Barack Obama said when he was campaigning in Selma in 2008 that he stands on the shoulders of giants,” she adds. “Well, Barack Obama wouldn't be president of the United States if all of those people going back generations had not fought for equality and justice.”

How much progress have we made in race relations since a young Charlayne Hunter fought through that angry mob of White students to get to class 50 years ago this week?

“We've made progress in the advancement of Black people to positions that they might never have been in before and wouldn't have access to prior to the 60s,” Hunter-Gault says. “But we still have challenges that revolve around race, that revolve around class, and that revolve around gender. It doesn't serve us to say that we haven't made any progress, because we have. But, there are new challenges out there and we need all hands on deck to meet those challenges.

“I think we should be encouraged by the progress that we've made in this country, yet when you look at the Gallup polls that show people's reaction to race since the Obama election, Blacks are more pessimistic than anybody else about race,” she adds. “You have a rise in hate crimes, you've got airwaves that are populated with vicious, venomous racism that isn't even muffled. You have a resurgence in the kind of things that can get very bad unless good people do the right thing. So that's what I hope to see.”

Racial Disparities in Dallas Foster Care System

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By Imani Evans, Special to the NNPA from The Dallas Examiner –

No one will ever pretend that the Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) has an easy job. As an agency charged with protecting minor children from abuse, neglect, and exploitation - and empowered to remove children from homes, if necessary - DFPS will always be a political hot-button. Concerns about equity, fairness, and effectiveness have always dogged the agency, which is why it's not surprising that certain state legislators, notably State Senator Royce West, seek to make DFPS reform part of the legislative agenda for the 2011 session.

Last month, West, in conjunction with the DFPS in Region 3, sponsored a town hall meeting at Head Start of Greater Dallas to solicit comment and raise public awareness of racial disparities within the foster care system - DFPS' domain. The issue at hand is emotionally charged: the overrepresentation of children of color in the foster care system in Dallas County. Despite being 20 percent of all children, minority children are 42 percent of confirmed victims of abuse and neglect, 50 percent of children removed from homes, and 42 percent of children waiting adoption at the end of the year.

The speakers at the town hall included Audrey Deckinga, assistant commissioner for Child Protective Services, and Joyce James, director of the recently established Center for the Elimination of Disproportionality and Disparities, a division of the Texas Health and Human Services System.

"The purpose of the meeting was to revisit the community and the issues that had previously been brought out in a town hall meeting about five years prior, when the work began," said Sheila Sturgis Craig, Disproportionality Project Manager. "And Senator West wanted to have folks really come back out and talk about what unfolded as a result of the efforts that had been made around addressing disproportionality."

According to Maxine Jones Robinson, DFPS Disproportionality Specialist for Region 3 which includes Dallas and Tarrant counties, "African American children are overrepresented in the child welfare system and there are many, many causes for this. When you see the numbers, they are continuously going up, but if you look at Anglo children's numbers, they are constantly decreasing."

Last month’s town hall meeting also served as a progress report of sorts for the DFPS Disproportionality Project, which was created as a result of DFPS' effort to understand and remedy the issue since submitting two reports to the Legislature in 2006. The first report was a study of the problem, the second a remediation plan. As part of the effort, DFPS formed an advisory board consisting of community leaders, educators, service providers, and judges.

"We're trying to bring people to the table that our families often have some kind of contact with," said Robinson of DFPS. "For instance, oftentimes our families come into contact with public housing and with the food stamp system. They come into contact with the judicial system. They come into contact with law enforcement. Oftentimes, the same families that we're serving are also being served by these other entities and so we have found that there are many, many causes for the disproportionality."

Recognizing this interconnectedness between the concerns of DFPS and the practices of other institutions that Black families interface with is a central feature of the remediation effort.

"It is not just a Child Protective Services problem. It's a problem that occurs in the juvenile justice system, the health care system, the school system, etc. There are many systems where African American families have disparate outcomes as a result of their interactions with those systems," Robinson said.

According to Craig, the town hall meeting was successful. It touched on issues such as support for caregivers, the challenges faced by prospective foster and adoptive parents who are African American, and airing community concerns. Although disproportionality on the whole has not decreased in Dallas County, according to Craig, although there has been a reduction in removals. Craig attributes this to intensified efforts to work with birth families in the interest of keeping children in their homes.

The DFPS analysis also emphasizes the multifaceted nature of the problem, defying one-size-fits-all solutions. For example, Robinson points out that families served by DFPS are often younger, less educated, and mired in poverty, all variables that co-mingle with race. Reporter bias, as shown by caseworkers unable to clearly distinguish between neglect and poverty, also plays a role.

In its totality, the situation may be best described as the vexing result of systemic weakness combined with the failure of some front-line CPS workers to take stock of their own cultural prejudices, or lacking guidance on how to do so.

"We're looking at our policies and practices to make sure that any policies and practices that we have that create a disparity between groups we bring to the attention of our leadership in Austin so that we can look at possibly trying to change," Jones said. "Some things we can't change because they're legislatively mandated. That's why we're working with legislators as well so they can have a good understanding of disproportionality, cultural differences and disparities."

College Chaos: Medgar Evers College's Mission in Question

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By Herb Boyd, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –

As Eric Daniels was grieving for his surrogate father, professor William Daly, last October, he went to lunch with William L. Pollard, president of Medgar Evers College.

Pollard had recently become president of the college after replacing Edison Jackson, the longtime leader of the college whose larger-than-life personality left a large imprint on the school.

Daniels went to the lunch with an open, if not somewhat skeptical mind. “I thought that was a generous gesture on his part,” Daniels said during a recent interview, “but I had some other things on my mind.”

After some pleasantries about Daly, who was a librarian specialist in the college’s archives, Daniels got down to brass tacks, grilling the president on why he was dismantling certain programs. “I wanted to know why he was supposedly fixing things that weren’t broke,” Daniels began. “It was like dismantling the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan was there.”

Daniels, 45, was particularly incensed by the turmoil swirling around the NuLeadership program, where he has been a student for two years.

“To think that this program was in jeopardy was one of the things I pressed the president on,” Daniels continued, “but he kind of blew me off. He practically admitted to me that he had no plans for that program or any others related to Black males on campus.”

In a recent full-page ad in the New York Amsterdam News, Pollard, while not directly addressing Daniels’ charges, offered another take on his plans for the college, which include strengthening the quality of education at the school. “We must make academic and administrative decisions based on careful, honest evaluations of how our programs impact our students,” he wrote.

Moreover, he continued, “We are proud of the good work of many of the college’s approved centers and institutes. Supplementing instruction by means of research and community service is a vital part of a quality educational institution. Centers and institutes will only be born after rigorous review and approval by the college’s governance process, the president and chancellor’s endorsements, and finally the CUNY (City University of New York) Board of Trustees’ affirmation.”

But, despite this apparent public support for centers, the directors of some of the most high profile centers on campus worry that Daniels has the president’s number, and that he is less than forthright with them, and that neither he nor CUNY’s central administration are really behind their efforts. The directors say that since the current administration’s arrival, they have never received a definitive response as to how they view centers. In fact, when the administration was reminded that the centers were an integral part of the core mission of the college, the directors were told that the mission needed to be changed.

“Changed” is the operative word for several programs that have been at the center of the academic maelstrom at Medgar Evers. Along with the eviction notice from the college to the seven-year-old Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, which is directed by Eddie Ellis and Dr. Divine Pryor, the college’s Senior Vice President and Provost, Howard Johnson has also reportedly eliminated the Writing Center and the Center for Teaching and Learning. The directors of the Dubois Center and the nationally recognized Center for Black Literature have also come under fire.

The charges leveled by faculty members include the refusal of the administration to sign off on grants for faculty and students’ research, and the denial of job reappointment of faculty and staff members.

Dr. Brenda Greene, a full professor at the college, heads up the prestigious Center for Black Literature, which hosts the annual National Black Writers Conference, discussed her sudden lack of institutional support under the Pollard administration.

“I wrote a proposal for an NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] for the National Black Writers Conference, a conference which has attracted writers such as the Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, Amiri Baraka, Walter Mosley, Ishmael Reed, Sonia Sanchez, Alice Walker, John Edgar Wideman, Cornel West, and Kamau Brathwaite. The provost initially refused to sign off on it, and eventually did so, but only after extensive negotiations.”

The administration seems to downplay the value of having such notables on campus and much of the work that the centers accomplish. In fact, the provost’s refusal to sign off on this proposal, as well as several other cases, seems to stem from his belief that the centers and the work they accomplish directs professors away from the classroom.

Recently, according to a faculty member who wished to remain anonymous, Johnson refused to sign off on a grant that would provide $15,000 in stipends to student research projects and other grants related to faculty and student research.

When the administration was asked to respond to some of the faculty’s claims, the reporter was referred to a college spokesperson, which dispatched several memorandums that were an apparent attempt to clarify their position on several of the more controversial issues.

In a statement released by the college’s Office of Communications on the day after Christmas, Pollard said, “We will not allow special interests to deter this administration from making the necessary changes designed to ensure the academic integrity and fiscal soundness of Medgar Evers College. … We will continue to serve the needs of this diverse population through our academic programs and relevant centers.”

The memorandum seems to take direct aim at the Center for NuLeadership, which the administration was forcing to vacate its office space as of Dec. 30, 2010. The Center for NuLeadership has been working to facilitate the re-entry of the formerly incarcerated into society through the education process. The provost’s letter gave a vague explanation for his lack of support for the much-needed work done by the center for the Black community. “This decision,” the request stated, “arose out of legal, substantive, and procedural concerns about the actions of NuLeadership.”

Furthermore, the college took steps to recover what they claimed were computers that belonged to the college. Pryor and Ellis challenged that claim, insisting that the computers were theirs. That argument was settled recently when the college admitted that they did not own the computers that were seized in December during an after-hours raid by the administration on the center.

A check of manufacturers’ records confirmed that the computers belonged to Pryor and Kate Kjung Ji Rhee, and that they were purchased long before their affiliation with Medgar Evers.

“We always knew the computers were owned by us and were confident that the law would ultimately be on our side,” Pryor said in a statement to the press. “This is another step towards justice for us against a Medgar Evers College administration with an utter contempt for civility and law.”

And as the administration seems to bungle their relationship with the Center for NuLeadership, and misses out on an opportunity to help a much-needed segment of the Black population, there are also complaints about how the administration has handled other faculty issues. One instructor at the college noted that Medgar Evers, though being one of the smallest colleges in CUNY, has the most contract grievances filed against it.

“They can’t be trusted,” said Ellis, when asked about the administration’s integrity and sensitivity. “It’s not about sensitivity; it’s about integrity, which they don’t possess.” Feeling they are not getting a fair hearing from the administration, and wanting to stop the eviction, Ellis and Pryor took their case to court, and a date has been scheduled for early February, according to an e-mail from Ellis.

“Without a single piece of tangible evidence, the administrators have proclaimed that formerly incarcerated students are a ‘threat to the security of the college and an insurance liability.”

In an earlier and related press release, Ellis said, “In an unprecedented series of events, Provost Johnson has refused to recognize the Center for NuLeadership as a legal entity within the college. He has blocked the center from receiving future funding for re-entry programs, refused to process and disperse their existing approved funding and defied the MEC College Council’s instructions to forward to CUNY Central their recommendation that NuLeadership on Urban Solutions be recognized as a fully functioning center.”

In their own defense, the college’s leaders have said “there is not, nor has there ever been, a Medgar Evers College policy enacted that penalizes any prospective or current student who has been incarcerated. Our issue is the steadfast resistance of NuLeadership to adequately address the legal, substantive and procedural requirements of the college and the university.”

NuLeadership has been a campus presence since 2004. It began its operation during the tenure of former President Edison Jackson, who invited them to set up the program in 2003 to work, ostensibly, as a project under the auspices of the Medgar Evers Center for Law and Social Justice. After five year of showing its viability on campus, the Executive Committee of the Medgar Evers College Council approved the official establishment of the Center for NuLeadership on Urban Solutions, according to a statement from the center.

The collective policies and actions of Pollard and Johnson prompted the faculty to issue a vote of no confidence for both administrators. Out of 66 members of the faculty, 59 voted no when given a choice of backing Pollard’s policies, abstaining or supporting them at a late December meeting of the college’s faculty at Medgar. This was one of the largest faculty votes in recent years. Recent faculty votes were 35 in (’08), 35 in (’09) and 24 in (’10) for the faculty senate. The fact that 59 faculty members of the relatively small permanent faculty gave the administration a vote of no confidence shows the dissatisfaction that the faculty feels towards the administration.

In late December, faculty, students, and community leaders formed the Medgar Evers Coalition for Academic Excellence and Mission Integrity. The coalition has taken positions on the leadership, student support services and the Center for NuLeadership, and called for a number of actions, including the resignation of Johnson, the restoration of student support services, the redistribution of resources from consultants to students, the rescinding of the eviction of the Center for NuLeadership, the restoration of open enrollment, the creation of a pipeline for students who need support, and the restoration of full support for the highly praised Medgar Evers Preparatory School’s Dual Enrollment Program, which would enable high school students to take college-level courses.

And, what has been the general reaction by students on campus to the turmoil? “Most students are not that aware of the situation,” said Cory Provost, a student trustee who attends Brooklyn College. “But, those who are aware want to be involved in whatever changes occur at the college.”

Those changes may be among several greeting the students when they return for the spring semester.

An Inner-City School Where Attendance Pays – Literally

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By Rebecca S. Rivas, Special to the NNPA from The St. Louis American –

How does an inner-city principal get her elementary students and their families to commit to attendance and good behavior?

An incentive of $300 is a good start, as Principal Natalie Means of Jefferson Elementary, in St. Louis, discovered.

In the fall, Jefferson Elementary offered 25 newly enrolled students $300, if they achieved 95 percent attendance, were not suspended, and their guardians attended three out of four Parent Teacher Organization meetings by the end of the fall semester.

The families also had to live in one of the surrounding rental areas - Residences at Murphy Park, O'Fallon Place, and Carr Square neighborhood - all developed by McCormack Baron Salazar company. Its partnering management company, McCormack Baron Ragan, funded the incentive program through an overseeing nonprofit group, Urban Strategies Inc.

Nearly 80 percent of the 25 students made the grade.

Means compared a group of non-participating students to the students working towards the incentive. Non-participating students missed an average of 2.8 days this semester, while students in the program missed an average of 1.5 days. Nearly half of the students enrolled in the program - 42 percent - nailed a perfect attendance record, compared to 25 percent of non-participating students.

National studies confirm that this type of incentive program works. However, with consistent state budget cuts, incentives are far from most principals' minds.

For Jefferson Elementary, McCormack Baron Salazar has kept a close watch on its progress for many years.

In 1998, McCormack Baron Salazar built Residences at Murphy Park, which neighbors the school. Soon after, Richard Baron, chairman and CEO of the McCormack Baron companies, raised about $4 million to revamp the school to entice neighborhood residents to enroll their children in it.

Since then, the company has supported the school in various activities by working with Urban Strategies, Inc. to implement them. This year, Kate Casas, project manager for the group, met with Means about her goals for the school year and what would help her to achieve them. Means told Casas that she wanted to focus on enrollment, attendance, and behavior.

Last year, Jefferson became an art-focused pilot school, or a school that runs autonomously within the St. Louis Public School District. Despite marketing and neighborhood canvassing, Means did not reach her enrollment goals in 2009, she said.

Casas found a 2010 study conducted by Harvard economist Roland Fryer Jr., which found that paying students for reading books, good behavior, and attendance had significant results, particularly with minority populations.

However, paying kids for test scores and grades did not produce results. Fryer conducted experiments in four urban school settings: Dallas, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City. In all, 18,000 students in more than 250 urban schools participated in his trials.

Even if the program at Jefferson didn't produce results in all students, it left them with a valuable lesson.

This semester, three African-American children from one family entered in the program. The two younger siblings succeeded, but the sixth-grade boy did not. The family had just moved from Mississippi, where they enjoyed a more rural lifestyle. A few weeks into the school year, Everest Wright, 13, got into a fight and was suspended.

"I was having a little bit of an off day," Wright said. "Someone said something to me, and I flipped out."

When he got home, he instantly realized the severity of his actions. But, it really hit him at Christmas time.

"I saw my momma take my brother and sister to the store and pick out their presents, and I thought, ‘That could have been me,'" he said. "A lesson did come out of that. Before I start fighting, I try to think about it first. Is it worth it?"

His sister, third-grader Diamond Lofton, bought a Nintendo system, a new coat and several clothes with her money. Wright had to put his present on layaway.

Every other week, Casas and two Washington University students would mail home letters to the families to inform them about their status of succeeding. With some families, a letter was all it took. But, for others, they made home visits to offer any assistance and resources to help the guardians and students achieve their goals.

The process increased the trust level that parents had for the school, Means said, particularly for families who had negative experiences with their previous schools.

"We were all positively impacted by this," Means said. "I think a barrier was broken. They saw us as partners and not someone that was invading their space and looking for problems to go report. I would love to do it again."

Last month, Urban Strategies president Sandra Moore and Baron congratulated the families who completed the program at the school.

Urban Strategies plans on offering the incentives again with a goal of 125 children next time.

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