Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Be On Time and Be Prepared to Work!

Tim King, former CEO of Hales Franciscan and founder and CEO of Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men-Englewood Campus set to open in fall 2006, states in a Chicago Tribune op-ed piece (May2, 2006) that 'It's time to set a new dinner table.' King , who left Hales Franciscan for ventures in philanthropy education and now Charter Education, wants African American fathers to sit down with their sons and 'show them an alternate future, one that includes hard work, being accountable and going to college.' He warns, 'Until we embrace this responsibility, they (African American Young Men) will continue to fail and so will we.' Riffing on this third and most important topic, the need to provide great black male role models for young men, King's dualism bashes 'bling with books; rims with reading; and chillin' with college.' King echoes what Hales Franciscan has argued since 1961 and Leo High School has been teaching since 1926. But allow me to articulate the core of the message.

Tim King stated earlier in his essay that he had learned the value of education at the dinner table from his entrepreneur father, lawyer uncle, and Georgetown University graduate older brother. Tim King went to Georgetown, law school, and started his own business. He'll be a great role model for the young men of Urban Prep Charter in Englewood. He has lived the lesson.

I have helped provide funding for Leo High School for the last eleven years. Leo High School, like Hales Franciscan is a Catholic college prep serving African American young men. I am not black; I am Irish American and so is my boss Bob Foster, Leo's President. Bob has been serving Leo High School as Principal and President since 1991 and has devoted most of his forty-four years in education to the boys at Leo. Like Bob Foster, I was a teacher and also the first member of my family to go to college. My County Kerry - born Grandfather and founder of the Engineer's Union always told me that I had better go to college or I'd starve to death. He was slighting my practical labor skills more than working on my self-esteem. Bob Foster's father and all of his older brothers were Chicago Police Officers. He too was the first in his family to finish college.

My dad was a blue color worker with three jobs, who had gone to war instead of college. In fact only one of my seven uncles went to college and only completed his degree before his death from cancer at 43 years of age. Like Tim King, our dinner conversation revolved around the subject of school, hard work, and meeting my responsibilities. The topic of college hung out in the ozone as a possibility merited by hard work, good luck, and God's intervention. Most important was the subject of responsibility - be on time and be prepared to work.

College Preparatory means just that - prepare for for college. Leo High School, like Hales Franciscan, has a remarkable record of sending young men on to some of the best colleges and universities in America. The lessons taught at Leo High School are these - be on time and be prepared to work. One young man, a 2000, graduate was accepted at six major universities: University of Illinois offered him the full-boat. Though a great athlete, this young Leo Man merited an Academic scholarship. Forsaking all offers of a college career for now, this Leo grad chose to apply for the Pipefitters Apprenticeship Program and was accepted. Unlike me, this young man had the aptitude for success in the trade, as well as books smarts. Not only that, this young man had an aptitude for meeting his responsibilities. The Director of the Apprenticeship Program, John Lean, reported to me that 'our guy' not only attended all of the required classes but showed up at the Pipefitters school on his days off - to bone - up on welding techniques.

Once in the trade and in the field, the poor guy was pulled this way and that way by contractors and superintendents wanting his skills, work ethic, and unfailing dedication. This black young man is making a great deal of money and enjoying a wealth of respect. He was prepared for college, but he excelled as a man.

I sit at the kitchen table with my son. We talk about his classes and his work in school. We talk about what is really important in life - be on time and be prepared to work. My son might go to college, but I pray that he is prepared to be a man. Hales Franciscan and Leo High School are two pretty good schools. They are Catholic schools, but most of the young men attending both are not necessarily Catholic themselves; they are all African American and they are all taught - be on time and be prepared to work.