In May of 2014, Chezare Warren approached us and indicated that he wanted to discuss our experience as students at Urban Prep. We were happy to do so since Urban Prep had been an important part of our lives and we trusted Mr. Warren understood this. In his piece for The Conversation, however, Mr. Warren has betrayed that trust by taking our statements out of context, misrepresenting our feelings and attacking our alma mater for personal gain. Reading Mr. Warren’s opinion piece in The Chicago Reporter was deeply bothersome because it was yet one more attack on a school we love and further tied our name to his inaccurate opinion.
Urban Prep provided us with educational opportunities that we would not have been able to receive elsewhere. We met daily with mentors, heard from accomplished Black men like Spike Lee and Henry Louis Gates Jr., traveled to Springfield and Washington, D.C., to witness Barack Obama’s journey from candidate to president, met with executives at the offices of various companies in downtown Chicago and spent summers at some of the world’s finest institutions of higher learning (including Cambridge University, Georgetown University, Syracuse University and Stanford University).
We had dedicated teachers, mentors and administrators who worked with us to ensure that we were not only academically prepared for college but that we would also possess the grit necessary to succeed. These men and women were with us our entire high school tenure. Mr. Warren, on the other hand, was our teacher for one school year before leaving Urban Prep.
Our preparation for college began early. we had a college counselor from day one. Our first field trip was to Northwestern University to meet with students, professors and admissions reps and we recited a creed every morning that included the line, “We are college-bound.” Many of us started Urban Prep below grade level and we knew that our ACT scores wouldn’t be what got us into college, so we worked hard inside and outside the classroom to build strong cases for colleges to admit us.
The Urban Prep culture emphasizes college and we were definitely pushed in that direction, but that’s what we wanted, or at least that’s what our parents wanted when they chose Urban Prep for us. We also had to wear a jacket and tie every day, go to school without girls and adhere to the school’s code of conduct. We weren’t thrilled about any of this early on—and many of our classmates transferred out because Urban prep wasn’t for them—but by the time we were seniors, we knew that the Urban Prep experience was a positive one in helping us achieve our potential.
During senior year, when our college admissions letters began rolling in, we were tremendously excited and proud. This wasn’t supposed to happen at a public school in Englewood with mostly poor Black boys, but it did. Every time a student was admitted to college, the school would make an announcement in front of the entire student body and celebrate us. The way our brothers celebrated us made us feel like superheroes and professional athletes. It also made us feel like we had a huge responsibility. This feeling shouldn’t have been surprising to us since another line of that creed we recited every morning was, “We have a responsibility to our family, community and world.”
After leaving Urban Prep, members of our class enrolled in universities including the University of Virginia, University of Rochester, Morehouse College, Penn State University, Dillard University, Cornell University and Howard University. If you just look at numbers on a page, you’d see that we weren’t supposed to succeed in college: we didn’t meet “college readiness benchmarks,” we were first-generation college attendees, and we were economically disadvantaged Black males from the “’hood.” But we did graduate from college. In fact, Urban Prep continued to help us while we were in college by providing counseling, mentoring and financial support. We excelled at times and struggled at other times with classes and with adapting to college life, but probably no more or less than any student on our campuses. Anyone who says that Urban Prep didn’t help us get into college, prepare us for college, help us get through college or care about us is wrong.
Did all our classmates enroll in or graduate from college? No. Many of our classmates went to the military, got jobs to support their families, had kids, dealt with health issues, couldn’t afford to go to school, were victims of gun violence or succumbed to the lure of the streets. But we all were provided the chance to go to college and the tools to succeed once there. We were also taught essential lessons about being Black men (particularly important since most of us grew-up in households where our fathers were not present) and our duty to support our brothers instead of tearing them down. Some of us fulfill this responsibility by working at Urban Prep, others of us do so with careers in the fields of law, finance and community development.
Urban Prep prepared us for college. And, more importantly, we believe that no other high school could’ve better prepared us for life.