At the end of the school day in the middle of the week, 17 students at Nichols Middle School are not yet thinking of going home. They make their way to the library, where Principal Adrian Harries, Evanston Police Officer Adam Howard, and District 65 Student Engagement Coordinator Bryon Harris talk to them, listen to them, and help them see themselves as leaders.
The Officer and Gentlemen Academy, a new 12-week pilot is designed to promote leadership and confidence in these young black men as they navigate middle school, said Mr. Harries.
Mr. Harris designed the curriculum, drawing on his 15 years of professional experience working with high school and middle-school students and blending in ideas from Officer Howard. Each session begins with a half-hour of homework help and ends with a family-style supper.
On Wednesday, each Gentleman wears a shirt and tie – learning the proper way to tie a necktie was one of the first lessons.
The RoundTable visited the April 5 session on entrepreneurship, at which each Gentleman crafted a plan for a business he would like to own. Two local black business owners, Clarence Weaver and Hecky Powell, told how they worked to start and maintain their businesses and offered advice to the budding businessmen.
Mr. Weaver, co-owner of C&W Market & Ice Cream Parlor at the corner of Church Street and Dodge Avenue, said the reason he and his wife, Wendy, opened the store was that “for kids like you, there was no place to get snacks.” He said they spent some time cleaning up the place to make it attractive. “The first time you come in, you’re buying from the store. The second time, you’re buying from me.” He also said, “There is a lot to be said for dressing professionally and acting professionally. … Make sure you’re presenting the best you. You don’t have to be phony – be the best self you can be.”
“I didn’t have but $100 when I opened my restaurant,” Mr. Powell said. Hecky’s Barbecue is located at 1902 Green Bay Rd.
“I went on faith. I cooked, I washed dishes. I did all that before I got to where I am today. I loved it.” He also said, “I believe everyone should work for what they want.”
Afterward, the Gentlemen met in small groups, where each presented a business plan that was critiqued by the others. “To reach a goal, you have to have a plan,” Officer Howard said. “Without a plan, it’s just a wish.”
Mr. Harris told the Gentlemen as they worked on their plans, “We’re here to see what your true interests are. You’re standing up and being individuals – that’s hard
to do at your age.”
Mr. Harries, Mr. Harris, and Officer Howard told the RoundTable the response from the students and their families has been very positive. The surprise for Mr.
Harris was that the number of students in the program has grown rather than shrunk as the term progresses.
Mr. Harries said, “I like that this is a program dedicated to black young men. We are having a nationwide and District-wide conversation around equity, but we have to be mindful to put programming into it.”
The three hope OGA can be expanded to other District 65 middle schools. Students who are interested in joining the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org.