Mario Borha, the program chair of Oakton Community College’s Emory Williams Academy for Black Men, is shown here. (Photo provided by Oakton Community College)

Oakton Community College recently launched the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men, open to all first-year Oakton students who self-identify as male and as Black.

The program is designed to assist Black men entering one of eight programs of study by offering them an exclusive space for Black faculty and students. The academy supports Black male students across a spectrum of educational goals, regardless of whether they’re striving for an associate’s degree, a four-year program or vocational training.

The specific areas of study they support are two transfer programs, computer science and engineering – for any student who wants to transfer to a four-year school and study those programs – and six vocational programs that include accounting, human services, cannabis studies, law enforcement, criminal justice, and marketing and business.

The inaugural cohort will begin in fall 2022, and information sessions are happening through May 22.

Who was Emory Williams?

The Emory Williams Academy of Black Men was birthed out of focus groups that Oakton College conducted with stakeholders across the Evanston and Skokie communities. They spoke to community service agencies, pastors, practitioners, city employees, Oakton students as well as ETHS students.

Mario Borha, the program chair of the academy, told the RoundTable that they found that Oakton wasn’t present “where they needed to be” as it pertains to helping Black male students.

“We were waiting for our students to come to us,” Borha said. “We weren’t reaching out to the community in an active way to invite them to join us, and to really, and we weren’t expressing the value that we could offer them in a way that made sense to them.”

The academy is named after the late Evanstonian Emory Williams, who was not only the first Black board chair of Oakton Community College but was also considered a “major force” at ETHS, where he served as director of vocational education for several years.

Borha said that once Williams completed his work career at the high school, he went to Oakton and “started all over again.”

Williams was foundational in developing the “anti-racism team” and Bohr credits him as the foundation of the work Oakton has begun as an anti-racist institution.

“Typically, board members aren’t as hands-on as Mr. Williams was. But he also kind of established that legacy of really wanting to do the work,” Borha said.

What it means to be a scholar

In the program, the academy strives to provide “institutional touchpoints” throughout the experience of scholars at Oakton through Black mentors.

“We have black mentors, a variety of people at the college across different employee classes are volunteering to support scholars and applicants,” Borha said.

Once accepted, there will also be mentors throughout the college and student life experience, providing mentorship to scholars. Nine Black faculty are signed up to work with scholars, and those faculty also teach academy courses.

All scholars in the academy take one cohort class every semester, and those classes include requirements for their programs like introduction to English and introduction to Sociology, except those courses are also specific to African-American and Black culture.

Students would take courses like intro to African-American Culture in the arts, intro to African-American history, or intro to African-American literature with fellow scholars to satisfy those requirements

At the end of the program, all students will either be matched with a transfer adviser at their new four-year college, or Oakton will match them with an employer to interview with once they graduate.

“With the violence that we’ve been experiencing in terms of, like, the overt violence then police violence and from other societal ills,” Borha said. “So there are lots of reasons to, to really, kind of, take advantage of this moment.”

The next open house for the program is March 29 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Evanston Community Bank and Trust. A full list of open house session dates can be found on the website here.

Debbie-Marie Brown

Debbie-Marie Brown is a reporter and Racial Justice Fellow at the Evanston RoundTable. They cover the local reparations initiative, Black life in Evanston, and the 5th ward. Contact Debbie-Marie at dmb@evanstonroundtable.com...

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