Mass graduation celebrates young Black men

June 29, 2013 (CHICAGO)

They are all high school graduates getting ready for college.

Chicago hosted a ceremony to celebrate an accomplishment many take for granted, graduating high school.

Saturday afternoon, the Black Star Project celebrated young black men who often don't get any recognition for staying on the right path and doing the right thing.

Their success is being celebrated once again.

"I'm blessed to have the opportunity that I have now to go to college, being a young Black male to go to college. It's really a dream come true for me," Marvin Williams said.

Williams graduated from Hales Franciscan High School with honors last month.

He's one of the roughly 150 Class of 2013 graduates who were celebrated Saturday at the first-ever mass black male graduation ceremony held at Chicago State University.

"There are other young men that are looking this, they can catch on and get a grip, and know that they can be about positive stuff, instead of all of that negative," said Johnny Smiley, grandfather of graduate.

"We're constantly fighting the negative, we're constantly not looking at the positive. We're not looking at from civil rights to no," said Kenya Brooks.

Family and friends looked on as the graduates' accomplishments were also acknowledged by 50 of the area's most influential African American men, who many consider elders in the community.

"We still have a commitment and responsibility to educate," said Dr. Wayne Watson, Chicago State University President.

The event is the brainchild of Phillip Jackson, executive director of The Black Star Project.

Jackson says in Chicago only three out of 100 young Black men who attend public high school attain a 4-year college degree by age 25.

"There's almost a dotted line connection between young Black men who drop out of high school and those who go into the penal system, between young Black men who drop out of high school and engage in violence," said Jackson.

The graduates heard encouraging words from several speakers before taking a pledge promising to be a beacon of hope as they commit to achieve greatness.

After the ceremony, the graduates and their families were invited to stay for what organizers call a post high school opportunities resource fair, where students could additional information about educational options like internship, as well as make valuable contacts for the future.

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