Abell Salutes: “BEST”

July 2004 / Salutes / Education

For increasing educational opportunities for disadvantaged African American students.

In the mid-1970s shockwaves from the Brown v Board decision were resonating throughout Baltimore’s education community, presenting the leadership with a dilemma: Though the public schools were becoming more integrated under the law, the private schools were not subject to the law and, at that point in time, remained what they had traditionally been—all white. Five Baltimore private school educators viewed the situation as unacceptable; they decided to right what they saw as a wrong, and to recruit disadvantaged Afro-American students and work towards integrating their enrollments. The problem was—how would the students be recruited and who would pay the costs? And so in 1987, out of the mergers of earlier initiatives established to deal with the problem, BEST (Baltimore Educational Scholarship Trust) was born.

The mission of BEST was set out clearly from the start: “to encourage, support and increase the educational opportunities for academically talented, economically disadvantaged African American students from the Baltimore metropolitan area.” Now in its 17th year, BEST has created a record that makes clear just how faithfully the Trust has been fulfilling its mission—day by day, student by student.

Through its recruiting and fund raising, BEST has provided support for the matriculation of 1,260 students into one of 23 private schools (mostly from one-parent households whose incomes average $37,000). Of those students, 460 have graduated from, and some are currently attending, America’s most prestigious colleges and universities—including Princeton, Wellesley, Brown and Duke. In any given year there are about 450 BEST students in all of the schools throughout all of the grades.

One former BEST alumna is Crystal Lee, who became a BEST student at Garrison Forest when she was 13-years-old and after attending the eighth grade at John Paul Regional Catholic school in Woodlawn. “What surprised me about the change from John Paul to Garrison Forest,” she says, “was the increased work load – that hit me, it was significantly more. But it made my educational experience at Garrison. I loved the school—I got so wrapped up in sports I didn’t get home until six and six thirty every night! I graduated and went on to Loyola College of Baltimore and then was lucky enough to be hired here at Garrison Forest as Director of Alumnae Relations.”

Faderera Adesina was attending Baltimore City’s public Roland Park Middle school and found she had a mild reading disability, and so her family had her transferred to the Jemicy School. It was while she was attending Jemicy that her counselors brought her together with BEST and matriculation into, an eventual graduation from Oldfields. She says, “When I moved to Oldfields I found that the teachers’ expectations of me were high, and I had to work very hard to keep up.” Federera plans to attend Hobart-William Smith College, and to major in communications. Asked where her young life might have gone without the help and
support of BEST, she says, “I have no clue. BEST has made all the difference.”

Enoch Attenoukon’s family resided on Woodland Avenue in the Park Heights Avenue / Pimlico section of Baltimore City, and when Enoch reached school age in 2002 he attended Edgecombe Circle Elementary. For middle school, his mother, then a teacher’s aide, entered him into St. Ignatius Academy on scholarship. “Everyone there was on scholarship,” he says. “Our teachers expected a lot of us and we all studied hard. When it came time to think about high school, the ninth grade, my teachers recommended me to BEST, and I was admitted into Gilman on a BEST scholarship.” Now in his senior year, he says, “I seem to have been well prepared for the academic work—but finding myself one of the few black students in a mostly all white school—that took some getting used to and some adjusting.” Enoch has apparently adjusted well: he played varsity football and ran varsity track and will be attending the University of Maryland. He says, “I owe BEST a lot.”

The Abell Foundation salutes BEST — its staff and board under the leadership of board chair Theo C. Rodgers, for continuing to carry out the BEST mission — increasing educational opportunities for disadvantaged Afro American students, and making a difference in their lives.