Recently, I had the privilege of enjoying an entire week in the presence of six rock stars…up close and personal! I stood alongside them as they engaged with some of Atlanta’s most esteemed political, business and community leaders. And, I applauded them as they were honored with a host of accolades and public commendations. This whirlwind week left me on quite an inspirational high, and the hundreds of others who had the foresight to join in this time of celebration felt the same. Still, the week came and went with little fanfare, and having made relatively few waves throughout our city.
Who were these rock stars, and why weren’t their accomplishments covered by every television program, radio station or print publication in the region? Perhaps it’s because they are rock stars in the classroom and in their communities, and not in the athletic arena or on the entertainment stage. They are:
- Camara Carter, a Sandy Creek High School graduate who will attend Harvard University
- Danielle Daley a graduate of The Westminster Schools who will attend the Georgetown University
- Julia Davis, a graduate of Carver Health Sciences & Research who will attend Spelman College
- Camera Elliott, a Pike County High School graduate who will attend the University of Georgia
- Asha Harris, Parkview High School graduate who will attend Georgia Institute of Technology
- Kevin Smith, a Redan High School graduate who will attend Boston University
Theirs’ may not be household names, yet, but I predict it’s only a matter of time before that changes. These six African-American metro Atlanta high school students have displayed academic excellence at their respective schools and tremendous tenacity in the face of various obstacles—from battling dyslexia and overcoming shyness to losing a parent at a young age.
They were honored as the 2011 Class of W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars program, in the first year that the initiative was revamped into an invitation-only program to recognize and honor some of our most distinguished African-American high school students, and to motivate and inspire other students toward the academic ambition that can also earn them the same recognition and success in life.
The W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars program, with a n emphasis on African-American students, is modeled after the U.S. Presidential Scholars program. Local and national thought leaders, politicians and educators joined the week-long celebration of academic excellence. During Recognition week, students received a W.E.B. Du Bois medallion commemorating their selection as a Du Bois Scholar, dined with members of the Atlanta City Council, enjoyed VIP encounters with arts leaders, and participated in intimate conversations with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and journalist Charlyne Hunter-Gault.
Nationally, recognition from the U.S. Scholars program is the highest honor a high school student can receive. Since its creation in 1964, less than four percent (a staggering statistic) of those students have been African American.
Why don’t we celebrate academic excellence in African-American students? Our scholars program is the only one of its kind recognizing excellence in black students. Yet, we celebrate, applaud and even televise events such as National Signing Day every February. Young athletes are brought on the national stage to announce their school of choice to play sports. Why don’t do we do the same thing for college kids announcing their academic school of choice?
I can’t help but recall a stirring comment from Akil Dan-Fodio during our “Academics & Athletics” media panel discussion in May. Akil, an all-star high school scholar athlete who gets it done on and off the football field, said to us: “If you make honor roll, your name is put on a list that goes up in the hall. But if you are athlete of the week, it’s in the newspaper. There are cameras. Your game might be on ESPN. Everybody knows about it. The only way people know about academic scholarships is if you tell them. Every kid wants to be recognized for what they did. You get that more with sports than you do with academics.”
As we celebrate high school athletes crossing the threshold to upper level athletics, we should celebrate nationally and locally students who have persisted to achieve at the highest level in the classroom. When you consider the odds of achieving and realizing life success in a career in medicine, law, academics, education or in math or science, versus in an athletic or entertainment career, isn’t it clear where we should aim our spotlights? It is important to spotlight students who compete aggressively in the classroom to the same extent that we spotlight those in other areas such as sports. It is my hope that, in recognizing students for their hard work in this arena, we can inspire more of them to work harder. We believe student achievement and behavior can be improved through frequent monitoring of student progress and positive feedback and recognition for gains made.
Students that do well and strive hard for academic success are the new rock stars…we should acknowledge them as such! And, we are committed to staying our course—challenging parents, educators, community leaders and the media to treat these students as such.
Check out this very inspirational video to learn more about the personal experiences and aspirations of these six W.E.B. Du Bois Scholars: