The Black Student Experience in Baltimore’s White Independent Private Schools: Is it a path to success?

May 1989 / Abell Reports / Education

In Baltimore, scores of black students at every level of the socioeconomic scale are enrolled in largely white private schools; they appear to be doing well. Students, schools, families and community all stand to gain.

“By allowing the opportunity for higher education to depend so largely on the individual’s economic status, we are not only denying to millions of young people the chance in life to which they’re entitled, we are also depriving the nation of a vast amount of political leadership and potential social competence which it sorely needs.”

“Higher Education For American Democracy”
A Commission Report of the Truman Administration (1947)

“Able students who can afford to enter higher education’s upper echelon will enjoy for much of their lives the economic and social benefits derived from that association.”

“Unequal Opportunity: Higher education in America” Barbara Vobejda, Washington Post (May 3, 1989)

Keefe Clemons graduated from Gilman and Princeton and is going on to study at Oxford and on his return will enter Harvard Law — a time-honored educational pattern familiar enough within a certain establishment culture. But Keefe Clemons is black, born in poverty to a 17-year old unmarried mother in West Baltimore, raised as a pre­schooler with the indignities and trauma of abuse at home and in a foster home. Conventional wisdom holds that with such a background and at his age, 22, Keefe would have been lost among the dropped-out and drugged-out populations.  But he is not — far from it; today, he is a bright and productive, accomplished and achieving student in a prestigious university, respected by his teachers and his peers, and with a promising future. After a young lifetime spent overcoming the odds against its happening, he will undoubtedly take his place in society as a responsible and perhaps leading citizen.

Keefe Clemons is one of dozens of young men and women in the Baltimore community who are the products of programs that identify black students in inner-city schools, some of whom are “low-income,” and then give them the opportunity (on scholarship) to become enrolled in one of Baltimore’s private schools. The programs began in the early 1960s when public consciousness was focused on affirmative action. Now, after some 25 years, it seems appropriate for the community that created and paid for the programs to examine the results. Who are these students, and what has happened to them, and to what extent can it be said that any one program has impacted these students’ educational and life experiences in a positive way, and to what degree? And do the results suggest that more co munity resources be committed to expanding and enriching these programs?