By Post Staff
Fresh from a two-week tour of southern colleges sponsored by For Richmond, Pinole Valley High senior Blake Evans returned to his south Richmond home this week with more questions than answers about life after graduation.
“When I left, I had been accepted to four colleges, so I was really focusing my decision on those schools,” said Evans, 18. “But while I was away, the acceptance letters kept rolling in.”
Evans and his family are now faced with choosing among 10 colleges across the country thanks, in part, to opportunities provided by the For Richmond coalition in partnership with the West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD).
As part of its commitment to advancing educational opportunities for Richmond students, For Richmond, a new local community-service organization, helped sponsor high school seniors and juniors — all city residents — on a March tour of eight colleges and numerous historic sites in Maryland, Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, as well as Washington, D.C.
Evans and others from several local high schools toured such universities as Dillard, Fisk and Howard, meeting with college presidents and department chairs, sitting in on classes and visiting with admissions and financial aid departments.
All returned to Richmond with at least one college acceptance letter.
“We are so proud of these exceptional students, and thrilled that they all have an opportunity to attain a college degree,” said Madeline Kronenberg, For Richmond Education chair and president of the WCCUSD Board of Education.
“Trips like these are invaluable because they help students realize that a four-year college is a real possibility for them.”
The trip was coordinated and partially funded by For Richmond, in partnership with WCCUSD, allowing students to participate in the Young Scholars Program, which helps African-American students achieve the dream of higher education by linking them to recruiters and admissions departments at traditionally Black colleges in the South.
It’s the coalition’s latest effort to increase opportunities for college access. For Richmond and WCCUSD recently facilitated a meeting with Richmond high school seniors and a Fisk University admissions director, resulting in two students receiving $30,000 in scholarships to the Nashville-based historically black college.
Fisk also committed to giving $50,000 in college scholarships for qualifying 2014 graduates.
Kronenberg said these opportunities not only expose students to college but also connect them directly with the universities, easing the daunting process of college applications.
And the recent trip offered other lessons. In addition to touring colleges, the students toured museums and historic sites, including the Smithsonian in Washington and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, where James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.
They also got a first taste of life far from home and away from the comfort of family.
While the transition can be stressful at first, Evans, who attended similar tours earlier this school year and as a junior, believes he’s become a stronger person as a result.
“These opportunities have been amazing for Blake, and we could not be more proud,” said Evans’ mother, Donna Smith. “This trip was such a special opportunity that really helped him see the possibilities. We are grateful.”
Faced with so many college options, and all the expectations of family and community, Blake said he is more focused now than ever.
“It is an amazing opportunity,” Evans said. “A lot of people are counting on me to succeed. I think I’m ready.”