about 83 percent, which is twice the national average for African American males in terms of college persistence. So we are very confident that what we’re going to see is a large number of our alumni graduating from college next year, and in years beyond.
We’re basically giving them six years to get their bachelor’s degree because there was a study done by the University of Chicago which found that only 2.5 percent of African American males in Chicago public schools will end up earning a four-year college degree by the time they’re 25. So we’ll have a big chunk of them finishing up next year, and then we'll have a smaller chunk who will finish in the following year, and then more that will finish the next year.
EBONY: In Delhi, recently, there was a parade of men standing up against rape culture and that was a very powerful image. We had an article on EBONY.com recently about the absence of Black men from that conversation here in America. Is that anything that you are considering teaching about in the future in order to help build successful Black communities across the country?
TK: It is not a part of the curriculum to teach students how to treat and interact with women. What is a part of our curriculum is an eight-pronged approach to what it means to be a good person. That’s based on the eight core values of Urban Prep. We educate them about how to engage with all people, including women and folks of different races, by teaching them how to live their lives well, how to be real positive contributors to their society. So that's the way we get to that. There’s no lesson, “Today we’re going to learn how to treat a Black woman,” but there is a lesson on, “Today we’re going to talk about what it means to be respectful, what it means to be selfless. Today we’re going to talk about what it means to possess integrity.” And so, through those lessons, we hope what we’re doing is creating very strong, positive, young Black men.
There’s also really strong anti-violence school culture that is based on respect, and responsibility, and relationships, and rituals. So on a daily basis, they are reminded of their responsibility to live in a non-violent way, and also to be respectful of folks.
EBONY: You’re building these men who are doing well in school, but if they’re wearing a hoodie while they’re walking home they could be victimized. Particularly in Chicago, with the violence against young Black men being such a threat, is that something you all openly talk about?
TK: Oh, yeah. It’s not just that the violence is kind of an academic thing, like, “Oh, let’s sit down and analyze what happened with Trayvon.” It’s real, and happening to our students! We’ve had this year - this year alone, since January - we’ve had three Urban Prep students shot, one fatally, and we’ve had two Urban Prep parents shot and killed. So the violence is very real for our families.
So yes, we have very open conversations about what’s happening in our communities, what it is we can do, and what our students feel like they can do as members of these communities, what it means to be in a gang in the city of Chicago and how you can get out of that life if you're in that life or how to avoid that life... We’ve got folks who are trained in grief counseling to work with our students who lose family members or friends to violence. We teach them what it is they need to do in order to stay safe, and we let them know that we are there to help them if they ever need help.
EBONY: So as far as the future of Urban Prep, do you see these Chicago elementary school closings as an opportunity for you to come in and start this bottled up, signed, sealed, delivered method of teaching students to a younger group of people?
TK: We definitely would like to expand our program to the elementary school level. We would like 6-12 or 7-12 schools. So I expect that in the future, we will see Urban Prep creeping down into the elementary school level, starting with a 7th and 8th grade program, and then ultimately be K-12 schools.
We’re pursuing expansion presently in a suburban community outside of Chicago, a heavily African American community. There’s strong demand and interest in our program, so we’re looking to open a school out there. If we’re approved, that school would be 7-12, so we would start with younger students at that point and perhaps go down to the elementary school level. And we’re looking at places outside of Illinois, too. I expect that in the next few years, we will see Urban Prep campuses all over the country.