Less than a year ago, a group of students from Morehouse College traveled to Washington D.C. for the 20th year anniversary of the Million Man March. Spearheaded by Johnathan D. Hill, who was then a Student Government Association President hopeful, the trip’s mission was to motivate Men of Morehouse to empower a group of young people to take on the pursuit of education. A year later, the “Get On the Bus” service-learning initiative returned to Washington D.C. to continue last year’s endeavor: empower, uplift and unite.
With that specific mission in mind, the group paid a visit to Ron Brown College Preparatory High School (formerly Empowering Males) and McKinley Technology High School. This year, a cohort of 53 students from all major departments and classifications were represented, thus offering the young boys a large pool of prospective possibilities.
In many ways the visit to McKinley Technology High School was a homecoming for SGA president, Johnathan D. Hill and three other students, who are all former students of McKinley Tech. Like Hill, the three former SGA Presidents of McKinley Tech who came after him have matriculated on to Morehouse, thus achieving the school’s vision to prepare students for the challenges of the ever-changing and competitive global market.
At McKinley, a number of Morehouse students performed poems, shared their stories and presented an image of a modern-day high-achieving, Black man. In return, students from McKinley shared their stories and were eager to learn about the possibilities of life after high school. Although the trip was geared towards young boys and men, young women occupied a small portion of the room, hearing the Morehouse students speak.
“We know that there’s a major plight for African-American males in the public education system,” said Danielle Green, Assistant Principal of McKinley Tech, who presides directly over the 11th and 12th grade scholars. “We know that they’re graduating, but they’re not achieving academically as their counterparts. So, for the Men of Morehouse to come here today, to tell their stories of how they’ve overcome public education and how now they’re pursuing higher education, and to actually be transparent about their struggles getting to college, we appreciate it.”
The shift to Ron Brown College Preparatory High School (RBCP) was familiarly different, primarily because both groups, students from RBCP and Morehouse, share the same all-boys model at their respective institutions.
As part of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) “Empowering Males of Color” initiative, RBCP is the first of its kind and the first all-male public high school in the D.C. Public School system. Earlier this year, in an interview with The Washington Post, Ben Williams, Principal of RBCP said, “It’s not just going to be an academic environment. We are going to be addressing some of the social and emotional issues that come with being a young man in this society right now.”
To no surprise, the visit from the Morehouse students aligned with Williams’ words to address issues that come along with being both Black and a young man in society.
For the students, the men presented an exhibition which is typically only performed at the school’s New Student Orientation ceremony. As the Morehouse students entered the room, they crouched and pretended as if they were holding candles, then sprang up one after the other shouting out the names of Historically Black College or University graduates.
Among the songs, performances and poems presented, one statement from a spoken word poem by John Mancini, a junior CTEMS major, struck home with both students and adults in the crowd.
The statement, “I don’t think our name in a newsfeed is what the Lord meant when he said that we would be immortalized,” was a nod towards the ever-present struggle of brutality against Black-men and women at the hands of police officers.
Wrapping up the afternoon with a series of programming centered around identity, awareness, self-motivation and a higher education pursuit, the Morehouse students structured the workshops and brother-to-brother talks, so that they could interact with the young men of RBCP on a personal level.
For one student, Messiah Joyner , the visit from the Morehouse students meant a lot. Speaking to the group before departing from RBCP, he had a few words to say.
“It’s hard for Black-males like us to do what we do and to get into college. Everyone keeps telling me that I can’t do it; so I thank y’all for telling me that I can.”
Jayson Overby, Jr