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STLCC Program Aims to Inspire Black Men Despite Obstacles

Wednesday, June 9, 2021


Chester HendersonFor a variety of reasons, many Black men who want to earn a college degree decide “I can’t.”

Franklyn Taylor, Ed.D., campus vice president for student affairs at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, wants to change those “I can’t” declarations to “I can.”

Taylor is working to help St. Louis Community College meet its goal of attracting a total of 100 African American men to its Black Male Achievers Academy. This is a free, six-week program that will serve Black men who attend college for the first time in the fall.

The academy’s focus is to engage students as they transition to their first semester of college. STLCC created the program to reverse the decline in the recruitment and retention of African American students at the College.

The BMAA will run June 21-July 30 and take place in person on both the Florissant Valley and Forest Park campuses.

To participate, Black male high school graduates with a 1.5-3.0 grade-point average who have not yet attended college need to email a recommendation letter from their high school counselor or teacher to Taylor at ftaylor65@stlcc.edu to express interest in the program. They can also call him at 314-644-9212 with questions.

An email with the required materials to Taylor generally ensures acceptance, because the College is still accepting students. So far there are 23 participants confirmed for the academy at the Florissant Valley location and 30 for its Forest Park location. Taylor will continue to recruit students until a few days before the program begins.

Participants will take a course in social science and reading. They will receive academic support and information to prepare them for future English and math courses as well as be introduced to career options, financial fitness and social justice, among other topics.

Students also will receive three credits and an academic scholarship to STLCC for up to $3,000 for two academic years.

Chester Henderson believes programs like the BMAA are sorely needed. He participated in a similar program, called the African American Male Initiative, that the College facilitated from 2009-2017.

Henderson dropped out of school at Parkway West High School in order to work and support his child. He ultimately completed his GED diploma. Although financial obligations caused Henderson to delay college, he is grateful he persevered.

“I grew up in North St. Louis, surrounded by the complexities of an urban environment. Survival was always a challenge. I lost so many childhood friends at a young age to gun violence, and it was a hard pill to swallow. It’s hard to look to the future when you are seeing things like this daily in your community,” Henderson said.

“I always wanted to do better for myself and my family, and that’s when I made the decision to go back and further my education. I’m so happy I did, because so many doors have opened because of that.”

The AAMI helped Henderson make his way through the educational process and graduate with an associate degree in human services from STLCC in 2017.

“As a first-time student, I needed help understanding and navigating the process of being a student. I wanted to know how to be successful,” Henderson said.

He even remembers the names of tutors and mentors – Keith Ware, Sam Huddleston and George Robnett – who he said were very knowledgeable about the college experience.

“They were always there when I needed someone to talk to during difficult times,” Henderson said.

Following graduation, Henderson was hired to work full time for the College and held several positions over the years. He now serves as an information and enrollment assistant with the College’s continuing education program.

Unfortunately, when the U.S. Department of Education’s Predominantly Black Institutions program grant funding ended, so did the AAMI program that paved the way to Henderson’s success. With the Black Male Achievers Academy in place, the College’s efforts to recruit and support Black male students will be strengthened.

Forest Park’s Taylor has worked with students like Henderson for more than six years at the College. Programs like the BMAA mean a lot to him personally.

“Students get the support they need to persist and graduate. They have a sense of belonging and someone to turn to when they need it. The extra support creates an opportunity for students to succeed,” Taylor said.

“When students know staff and faculty are 100% committed to their success and believe in them, they will often persist, despite insurmountable obstacles. That is why it is necessary to build a trusting relationship from the very beginning. Relationships are everything.”

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