Stories of success among Black youth too often go untold.
A large collaboration of Black student success and leadership organizations have come together to bring back the Black Baccalaureate program to honor African-American high school graduates from schools around the Portland area.
The event was organized by members from the Portland African American Leadership Forum, Self Enhancement, Inc., Black Male Achievement, Black Education Achievement Movement and other community-based organizations.
A graduate reception will be held on June 14 at 3 p.m. at Portland Bible College in Northeast Portland and the Baccalaureate ceremony begins at 4 p.m. Interested graduates should contact BlackBaccOregon@gmail.com.
Antoinette Edwards, director of the Office of Youth Violence Prevention and event organizer, said honoring youth is an important way to strengthen the community.
“It is that reclaiming the village and bringing us all back together in a very exciting way and saying we're here for you, we support you, we believe in you,” Edwards said.
The Black Baccalaureate welcomes graduating Black students from all schools in the area, high schools and alternative schools -- including students who are getting their GED.
C.J. Robbins of the Black Male Achievement program said an important part of the ceremony is the recognition of youth in the Oregon Youth Authority who will be receiving a GED or diploma while incarcerated.
There is no limited seating for attendees either, the event is free of charge and open to the public.
“As long as you are there to celebrate the shared value, the young people, you are more than welcome,” Robbins said.
“That’s your ticket in, there’s no reserved seats,” Edwards said, laughing.
The keynote speaker is Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia, director of Avel Gordly Center for Healing at Oregon Health & Sciences University. The ceremony will also honor an elder of the community, Dr. Harriet Adair, assistant superintendent at the Office of School Operations & Support with Portland Public Schools, and advocate for school diversity.
The baccalaureate will celebrate people of African ancestry through traditional Ghanaian drumming from the Okropong ensemble as well as graduation sashes made from Ghanaian kente cloth.
Black Education Achievement Movement Director Noni Causey said the celebration of ancestry is important because it helps students take pride in their history.
“If you don't see yourself in the big picture of things, then you don't believe that you belong there,” Causey said.
Edwards and Robbins said the event was important, because the achievements of the Black community are often overshadowed by the challenges. The celebration is an opportunity to rewrite the story of Black youth.
“When you talk about rebuilding a village, I think that celebrating is often lost. We tend to focus on the negatives,” Robbins said. “Celebration of the positive is what provides that hope that we need.”
According to Causey, the Black Baccalaureate had thrived in Portland because of the work of Kevin Fuller, who founded the Bridge Builders Black male achievement non-profit. His work with Bridge Builders and Prospective Gents kept the event going for a number of years. Causey said when Fuller moved on to other work, the event was lost.
Edwards said that PAALF, SEI, Portland Public Schools and BMA were all looking for a way to honor graduating students. When the organizers spoke with each other, it became evident that there needed to be a larger all-inclusive ceremony.
“Collaboration is the only way we get any progress. When we are siloed off and doing our own thing, we're often trying to do the same thing,” Robbins said. “We often have way more common ground that we think.”
Organizers hope that the Black Baccalaureate will grow in future years and become a local institution. There are plans to reach out to students farther away from Portland who may feel disconnected from the Black community.
There are also plans to hold the ceremony in May so that graduates could take their kente cloth graduation sashes back to their own high school graduations to represent their community.
Edwards said the day is ultimately about honoring the youth and instilling a sense of pride to those embarking on their journey.
“I think it’s important for our young people to have that sense of history, greatness and that you are special to us. You are special to us and we speak your names,” she said.