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Black History Month: Boosting Minority Graduation Rates

In ABC 4 Utah’s first of a series of reports highlighting Black History Month in Utah, we look at the college graduation rates of black students. Men make up just 34%. So that means women make up the other 66%. That data comes from a report by US Department of Education in 2010.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 UTAH)- In ABC 4 Utah’s first of a series of reports highlighting Black History Month in Utah, we look at the college graduation rates of black students.  Men make up just 34%.  So that means women make up the other 66%.  That data comes from a report by US Department of Education in 2010.

Many scholars have long since debated the reasons why black males are falling behind in obtaining college-level degrees.  But the legacy of men being the ‘breadwinner’ and seeking jobs versus education, the disparity of blacks incarcerated for receiving harsher penalties, and the exclusion in the classroom and society due to a general cloud of racism are just a few of the things the Reverend France A. Davis Scholarship Program hopes to overcome.

“I came to Salt Lake wearing my old grey suit and colored shirts and wearing my hairdo,” said Scholarship Founder the Rev. France A. Davis.

An afro proudly displayed on the head of a young Reverend France A. Davis back in 1974 not too long after graduating from UC Berkley.  Fast forward 40 years later, University of Utah student Keith McDonald works to obtain his bachelors degree in Social Work.

“The image of us being athletes, being entertainers, being in undesirable areas of society is put out there more,” said Scholarship Recipient Keith McDonald.

But McDonald works on a different image; the one of an educated black man, of a role model for his eight-year-old son Amaar.

But for Amaar’s success, we must go back to the days when Rev. Davis worked for his education.  Davis says his parents encouraged him to do better than they had: graduate from college.

“I was going to prove my parents right and the negative one that says don't even try from others in the community,” said Rev. Davis.

Davis left college to march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.  But he went back and picked up a few degrees.  He’s best known as the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake.  With education at the forefront, four years ago, Pastor Davis created a scholarship for minority students.

“We have at least one student on all the public colleges and universities in the state of Utah,” said Rev. Davis.

It started with just two students and now there are 29.  Rev. Davis passes on a message his scholarship recipients soak up.

“We are being educated so we can pass that on to future generations. So we can help and inspire others,” said scholarship recipient Bethany Cherry.

Bethany Cherry attends Brigham Young University and looks to the scholarship group for more than just financial assistance.

“There are a lot of stereotypes that you come across every single day.  I'm talking students, professors, even sometimes friends who just don't understand,” said Cherry

But in the group, Bethany sees faces that look like hers.  They’re all working together toward a common goal with a greater significance for those coming after them.

“When you're blessed with opportunities you take them and you help others as well,” said Cherry.

And the goal for this year is to help out her male counterparts.  Black men go to college half as often as black women.  Keith McDonald was that statistic.  He dropped out of the Ohio State University, joined the military, got married, and then had his son.

“It would be being a father. I didn't have any responsibilities. I could fly by the seat of my pants doing whatever I wanted to do. Now, I have to structure my life,” said McDonald.

Now, McDonald is back in school and working to provide a good example for Amaar. He doesn’t know why the numbers for black male graduates are so low, but he says there’s no excuse, especially with the scholarship group behind him.

“They set me up with a mentor, we have monthly meetings, the executive board checks on what I need every semester, and they're apart of your life,” said McDonald.

And not just for the students, but the Utah schools who benefit from having those students walk the halls, sit in the classrooms, and become part of the campus community.

“The institutions are better institutions when they have people of color and diversity of students,” said Rev. Davis.

To fill out the application or to donate to the scholarship program, please contact the university/college of your choice in the state of Utah.

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