Tradition of Excellence

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Breakfast honors black males’ academic success

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by Hattie Brown Garrow
Hampton Roads

E.J. Manuel plays football. And he’s good. Manuel is also a student in Bayside High School’s Health Sciences Academy. He’s good at that, too.

To Manuel, athletic and academic prowess don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

“You just gotta know what comes first,” the 18-year-old said.

Hint: It’s the schoolwork.

Manuel’s performance in the classroom earned him a spot at a recognition breakfast held Saturday. Organized by the Hampton Roads Committee of 200+ Men, the event honored black male high school students graduating with a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

Nationwide, black males graduate at a lower rate than their peers – an achievement gap Bruce Hacker calls a “crisis.”

“We’ve got to focus like never before on just trying to reinforce the value of education,” said Hacker, education chairman for the Committee of 200+ Men. Members are black men who seek to improve the community.

The organization invited 347 seniors from Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore to Saturday’s 11th annual breakfast. About 140 of those students attended the three-hour ceremony at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. Keynote speaker Tony Harris, a morning news anchor for CNN, explained that success requires a plan, determination and discipline.

Harris told the soon-to-be graduates that he was proud of their accomplishments but wished more young black men would “do what they ought to do” – graduate and find a career, not simply a job.

Marcus Lee, one of the seniors recognized Saturday, said he is looking forward to working in environmental science . Four years ago, as a freshman entering Green Run High School, Lee met with his guidance counselor. She reviewed his grades and gave him news that still stuns him.

“She said, ‘You keep this up, you can go to Princeton,’” Lee said. “I was, like, in a daze.”

The 18-year-old has worked overtime ever since, juggling a part-time job, three Advanced Placement courses and participation on the volleyball and basketball teams this school year alone.

He has a 3.7 GPA and is headed to Penn State.

Manuel will attend Florida State University on a football scholarship. If his dream of playing for the National Football League doesn’t pan out, he said, he’ll likely enter the biomedical engineering field.

Wearing a red button-down shirt and a tie, Manuel sat in the convention center lobby alongside three of his Bayside High buddies before the ceremony. They all participate in a different sport yet are able to maintain at least a B average, he pointed out. “People think athletes, especially black athletes, don’t apply themselves in the classroom,” Manuel said.

Classmate Dajuan Stallworth added: “It’s a great honor to be recognized. It just goes to show that we can achieve, against what some people see as a group that can’t or won’t achieve.”

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