Above, Students from 186th Street Elementary School perform during African American Family Day.

Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian congratulates Bryce Collier on his acceptance to Howard University.

By Gayle Pollard-Terry
Office of Communications

Bryce Collier, a senior at King-Drew Medical and Science Magnet, will be enrolling this fall at Howard University, a historically black college in Washington, D.C.

Ananda Johnson, a senior at Gardena High, is heading to Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Ariz., because it has small classes and will give her the chance to play softball at a Christian college.

Danielle Rawles, a senior at Westchester High School, has been accepted by several colleges but is waiting to hear from Harvard, Yale, USC and the University of California before she decides.

These students were among those celebrated Saturday during African American Family Day at Gardena High School. The annual event celebrated black students and their parents, provided information on colleges and community resources and featured student performances and motivational speakers. It was sponsored by the District’s Access, Equity and Acceleration Unit and the Parent and Community Services Branch.

“Today, we embrace the diversity of our District, especially African-American students,” Interim Superintendent Vivian Ekchian said as she opened the program, surrounded by African fabrics and red, black and green balloons. “L.A. Unified is a place where every child matters, and every child can achieve. We want all of our students to have every opportunity to advance academically.”

From left; Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson; scholarship recipients Tyrese Ellis, Joshua Lundy, Lesley Floyd, Bryce Collier and Richard Mendez; Washington Preparatory High Principal Dechele Byrd and Access, Equity and Acceleration Unit administrator Angela Hewlett-Bloch.

To help jump-start their post-secondary journey, six high school seniors received $500 scholarships funded by the Avery-Dennison Corp. and secured by consultant Wes Hall. They were also awarded a $600 suit by the Umoja Community of Los Angeles Trade Technical College. The students were selected based on criteria, including leadership and community involvement. Recipients were Bryce Collier of King-Drew, Tyrese Ellis of Banning High, Lesley Floyd and Joshua Lundy of Middle College High, Luis Henriquez of Bernstein High and Richard Mendez from Washington Preparatory High.

“College is a gateway to a better career and life,” said Collier, whose favorite subject is chemistry.

While at King-Drew Medical Magnet, he participated in an internship that allowed him to conduct research at nearby Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science. He plans to become a physician and selected Howard because of its program offering the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree and complete medical school in seven years.

His mother Denise Collier, an elementary school principal, also attended the event. “It’s important to celebrate African-American heritage,” she said. “It’s important to realize that African-American students have particular needs. I’m happy to see the District welcoming African-American students.”

Black students represent 8.4 percent of L.A. Unified’s enrollment. The goal of the Access, Equity and Acceleration Unit is to provide supports to struggling students and increase the number of African-American students who are excelling. Their successes include five female students who shared their strategies for success during a popular workshop, “My Pathway to Greatness – If I Knew Then What I Know Now.”

A peer panel offered advice on achieving success. Participants are, from left, Danielle Rawles, Amber Goring, Ananda Johnson, Zorrie Petrus and Cera Randle.

Danielle Rawles, the Associated Student Body president at Westchester High, is interested in environmental studies and social justice. She cited the importance of networking and self-advocacy “as soon as you step foot on campus.”

“I can’t stress the importance of having a mentor in the career you want,” she said. “And, the value of having people in your circle who want you to succeed.”

Ananda Johnson recommended connecting personal interests to post-secondary goals.

“I enjoy writing, and that led me to journalism,” said Johnson, who aspires to write for blogs, newspapers or magazines. She also advised doing your best from day one. “If I had tried harder (as a freshman), I would have many more opportunities now.”

Cera Randle, a junior from Gardena High, wants to major in civil engineering or business. While she hasn’t yet decided on a college, she said meeting with black engineering students at UCLA made a good impression. She encouraged students to get help from teachers, admitting that it had taken her some time to learn to do so herself.

Gardena junior Zorrie Petrus hasn’t started applying to colleges but wore a T-shirt emblazoned with HBCU Matter, symbolizing her aspiration to attend a historically black college or university. The aspiring photographer would like to attend Spelman College, Howard University or Grambling State University.

Parent Denise Collier and Dr. Brenda Manuel share a moment at African American Family Day.

The youngest panelist, Amber Goring, is in the tenth grade at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, where she is studying ballet, modern dance and videography.

“Always have a couple of teachers you can talk to who can push you forward and give you opportunities,” she said.

More than a dozen other workshops were offered for students and parents, including strategies for creating a college-going culture at home, programs for gifted and talented students and transitioning from middle to high school.

At the college and resource fair, parents and students visited booths representing community colleges, Cal State and UC campuses, historically black schools and other private universities. Representatives of black sororities and fraternities shared their routes to college and explained that higher education isn’t only about classes and books. The most popular booth offered information about financial aid.

Dr. Brenda Manuel, head of the district’s Student Involvement, Development and Empowerment Unit, seemed to be everywhere during African American Family Day. Wearing traditional West African clothing, she opened the morning program, announced the scholarship winners and moderated two student workshops.

“We are all here,” she said, “to provide the resources necessary to support our families in helping their children – our students – reach their full potential.”