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Theology Thursdays: Black Church Supports Youth by Sheryl Kornman

Members of Tucson's oldest black church didn't need to hear Bill Cosby's recent national scolding on how some black parents neglect their kids and don't help them get an education.

A committee of seven college-educated women at Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church is dedicated to the scholarship of its young people. The church, 210 E. Lester St., not only provides small scholarships for a handful of college students, but also gives them the skills to find good scholarships at top schools so they can have a promising future.

The church scholarship committee's chair, Phyllis Hardin, said it's part of the church's mission to "empower our youth."

Her daughter, Shamirrah Hardin, 19, will be off soon to her sophomore year at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Much of her first year at Howard was paid for by a foundation operated by Bill and Melinda Gates, who gave the Tucsonan a $20,000 scholarship last year.

A stipend of $250 each semester was provided for her by the church, which gives small scholarships to six college students from Tucson as they complete each semester.

The church scholarship committee works with students from eighth grade through high school, providing workshops on "how to competitively compete for scholarship money and how to meet and exceed the requirements to get into the college of their choice," Hardin said.

She said the committee also brings in role models - engineers, lawyers - to meet with the students, answer their questions about careers and college, and inspire them to reach beyond low-wage jobs.

"We encourage them to reach higher," she said, "to try to get on the college track. If they don't go to college, what option do they have?

"I don't think many people are going to be eager to join the military right now."

Hardin said some black teens in the Tucson area "are not being encouraged to reach higher and to achieve college."

She said school counselors help them get the classes they need to finish high school and that's about it.

"I want to make it clear that I am not trying to accuse anyone of racism, nor am I trying to put down the counselors," Hardin said. "But somehow it seems that many students are not being given the proper guidance and sufficient encouragement to do what needs to be done in order to meet the requirements for scholarship and college admission."

"The kids might need an extra push. We're doing this because we see a need. We want them to get to live the quality of life they'd like to have," she said.

Parents have a key role in their child's success, she said.

"I do believe parents have to take a more active role in their child's education. Parents should know their child's counselor and teachers and know what is required of the students if they want to pursue a college degree. We always invite and encourage parents to attend our workshops."

Shamirrah Hardin worked hard in high school with an eye toward getting into a prestigious college.

At Palo Verde High School, she graduated in 2003 with a 4.08 grade-point average, third in her class.

She was captain of the step team, played varsity basketball, volleyball and track, was in the school's modern dance club and its advanced drama club, and was a National Honor Society member.

At church she sang in the gospel choir.

After studying precalculus this summer at Pima Community College, she's returning to Howard, again on scholarship.

She found she adjusted to Howard "really well."

She wants to be a clinical psychologist, a psychology professor and a youth minister, she said.

Roosevelt Johnson Jr., whose father is a software engineer at Raytheon Missile Systems, wants to be a special agent for the FBI.

The 19-year-old 2002 Marana High School grad played varsity football and basketball.

Mount Calvary's scholarship committee had its eye on him and gave him a $300 scholarship for books during his first year at his father's alma mater, Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, La.

Johnson, who will be a junior this fall, has a double major in political science and criminal justice.

He's also a walk-on wide receiver on the Division I-AA football team and runs the 40-yard-dash in 4.5 seconds, he said. Last semester at college, he was named Mr. Sophomore.

His school expenses are being paid for in part by a $500 Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship funded by church members - in addition to the church scholarship committee's continuing scholarships of $250 a semester.

Phyllis Howard, who runs a travel agency from her home, said Mount Calvary church members "believe in striving for excellence in all aspects of our lives, our education, our Christian walk. And we are trying to pass this on to our youth."

In the college-prep workshops, "we have some in the eighth grade coming, and I can see the excitement that they have about going to college."

"We have some with parents who went to college and some who didn't. One wants to be an architect; they want to be doctors, lawyers, engineers and teachers."

The scholarship workshops are open to anyone, regardless of race, Hardin said.

For information on the college scholarship committee's workshops, call Hardin at 584-8582.

The next meeting is Sept. 18. Call next month for details on the time and place.

Sheryl Kornman writes for The Tucson Citizen where this article first appeared. She can be reached via e-mail at:

Thursday, August 5, 2004

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