By Larry Mullins, 1010 WINS
I got to visit Excellence Boys Charter School in Bed-Stuy today….and I wouldn’t have believed this if you’d told me about it—had to see it for myself; kids actually standing outside the gate at school… in the cold…just “dying” to get in. And they weren’t clamoring to get out of the cold. They were just eager to get INSIDE THE SCHOOL to hit the books…PERIOD!! Hello! Did somebody steal my cynical brain??!!
Excellence is a school, set up by a young “brother,” Jabali Sawicki, about 7 years ago. His idea was to create an environment whereby boys, black boys, can express themselves as men, but at the same time be taught discipline, honor, and be given the “moral code” (Sawicki’s words) to compete in the world market once they graduate college.
For the entire time that these kids are at Excellence, the teachers call them scholars, they dress like scholars, and they carry tons of books from class to class like….well … collegiate scholars . They wear lab coats to science class. No plastic flutes or autoharps here, these guys bring violins to music class. Even the classrooms we found had the names of Ivy League Schools posted on their doors..WITH THE COLLEGE GRADUATION DATES POSTED FOR EACH STUDENT! This is crazy!
I guess I shouldn’t be impressed, or at least, not “astonished”. They’re pretty bright kids, capable of learning like anybody else. As an African-American growing up in the south, I too was also told that I couldn’t learn (like the white kids), that I would turn out an underachiever, and that my dreams of someday being a “helper” at a radio or TV station were stupid. I had wanted to be like an old dude named Walter Cronkite. But in my heart, I had settled for simply wanting to rip off the UPI wires to hand off to other people to read. Who knew (see Bio at CBS New York.com).
Anyway, this school stood out in the middle of Bed-Stuy like a lighthouse in the harbor—hallways spotless, kids happy to be in school, young scholars addressing you with “yes sir and yes mam”, and 7th graders helping underclassmen (3-4th graders) stay on track. Even the building (it’s a little red brick building that doesn’t even take up half a block) looks like somebody swiped it from SMU or Harvard, and dropped it on the corner of Patchen & Macon.
But what really hooked me: 1st graders actually sitting at workstations, exercising their computer skills! This was like no other school that I can recall, predominantly black or white…except brother Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone which is another story.
Those of you reading this, (and if I’m still around in the year 2020), please remind me to do a follow-up on this story. That’s when the first group of boys from this little school will graduate. I gotta be there for that. I’ve been in television and radio for almost 30 years—and this had to be one of the greatest experiences that I’ve had in my entire career—seeing children defy the odds, kids with NOTHING (we’re talking some of the poorest kids in the city), yet the RICHEST young men I have ever met in my life.
It would be trivial to say that they “remind me of myself”. But heck, there was one kid who was my height.