Hundreds of exuberant high school seniors made a four-hour trek south to savor the taste of college life in North Carolina recently.
During a day chock-full of activities, 160 District students who attend both public and charter schools – and accompanied by D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) – started to solidify decisions surrounding their post-high school education.
"We all want our young folks to go to college," Brown said. "Education is the key to lifting people out of poverty. We want to make sure that every young person from D.C. gets an acceptance letter from college."
The group participated in the 11th Annual College Round-Up on March 10, in Tarboro, N.C., on the campus of Edgecombe Community College. Brown, 41, has chaperoned District students to the event for four of the past five years.
The Round-Up is sponsored by the Black Heritage Museum and Cultural Center Inc., in Tarboro which is 15 miles east of Rocky Mount, N.C.
The Round-Up is the brainchild of Robert Whitehead, who founded the college fair in 2001 with the purpose of helping young blacks graduating from high school go to college. The students who are registered at the event network with college and university officials, who are strongly encouraged by Round-Up organizers to offer admissions and financial aid decisions to students on the spot.
Brown said of the students who he has taken to the Round-Up in past years, "94 percent get into at least one college" while they are there.
Whitehead said that he's pleased with the way his pet project has progressed so far.
"The Round-Up has become very, very successful," he said. "I am so proud of the way it has grown and that kids from all over the country come to it."
While the District's contingent proved by far to be the largest, other aspiring college students hailed from various parts of North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee. The North Carolina colleges and universities that participated included Shaw University in Raleigh; Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville; Bennett College for Women in Greensboro; East Carolina University in Greenville; Saint Augustine's College in Raleigh; Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City; Edgecombe Community College; North Carolina Central University in Durham; and Winston-Salem University in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Colleges and universities from other states included Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., Lincoln University in Lincoln University, Pa., Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Ala., and Saint Paul's College in Lawrenceville, Va.
Upon arrival the students were immediately ushered into the Thomas S. Fleming Building and stepped into opening ceremonies in the Keihin Auditorium. The students, about 250, were greeted by Dianne Valentin, chief executive officer of the museum.
New York City Judge Betty Staton, who was born in Tarboro, served as the keynote speaker, and encouraged the participants to "believe in yourselves."
"You are destined to make a difference," Staton said. "You can be what you want to be because God says so."
The representatives of the colleges who were present introduced themselves to the students, provided a brief history of their schools and encouraged them to apply to their respective college or university. In addition to networking, some students attended workshops which covered topics that included leadership, personal motivation, student debt, and vital information on financial aid.
It didn't take long for some students to take the first steps toward college. Pairie Mallory and Artie Shaw, seniors at Washington Metropolitan High School in Northwest, were both admitted into Benedict College and received $7,500 and up to $13,000, respectively.
"This is good, this is great," Shaw said beaming. "I am looking forward to going to Benedict."
Many of the female students talked to Tisha Jackson, an admissions recruiter for Bennett. That is probably because they are familiar with outgoing president, Julianne Malveaux, who is a D.C. resident.
Jackson, who graduated from Bennett in 2011, could not say enough good things about Malveaux.
"Her presence is an inspiration to the girls at Bennett," she said. "You cannot be around Julianne Malveaux and not be inspired to be somebody and to do something."
In some academic circles, there is a perception of District students as being unfocused in their studies. Phillip Osborne III, the assistant director of undergraduate admissions at Winston-Salem University said that the perception is not true.
"We have admitted a number of D.C. students and they are quite productive once you get them past the freshman year," Osborne said. "Some need a lot of mentoring because they are in a different atmosphere but generally they can make it if they try."
Brown said that he was pleased at what he saw and heard at the Round-Up.
"We got all but one of our students accepted to a college at this Round-Up," Brown said enthusiastically. "This is so rewarding. So many people were impressed with the credentials and the behavior of the D.C. students."
The chairman said that the next step will be for his director of youth services, LaToya Foye, to follow up with the students to make sure that they file their financial aid and housing forms in a timely fashion.
Brown, sticking his chest out a bit, said, "D.C. made the event and the D.C. students stepped up to the table."
Marcus Butler, a senior at SEED in Southeast, was accepted into Saint Paul's, Saint Augustine's, Elizabeth City State University and Benedict.
"The trip was worth it to me," he said. "I was accepted on the spot at those schools and I am proud of that."
When asked whether he will tell his friends about the Round-Up, he smiled-and then responded."
"I already did," he said, flashing his I-Pad.