Emory Willaims.

Emory Williams would no doubt be proud.

The long-time teacher at Evanston Township High School and also board chair at Oakton Community College died in 2016.

Now, the college he helped to shape is creating the “Emory Williams Academy for Black Men,” to help young African-American men better navigate the world of post-high-school academics and careers.

“I’m extremely excited” about the program, says Mario Borha, Oakton math professor and endowed chair for the Williams Academy.

“As a faculty member, this is a dream. It’s amazing,” Borha says.

The academy’s mission is to improve the college success rate for Black men at Oakton.

The first academy group will have 25 Black male participants, referred by school counselors and community organizations, or by Black men themselves interested in taking part.

The plan, says Ruben Howard, community engagement director for the Academy, is that “every step of the way,” participants “will have someone along with them” as a coach and mentor.

That means an advisor or counselor to assist with everything from filling out the college application, to working through the financial aid process, to ultimately, help with finding a job or transferring to a four-year college.

Many potential academy members are “first-generation college students,” Howard says, whose parents might not be familiar with the often complex process of just getting into college, let alone getting a work-related certificate or academic degree.

Oakton’s statistics show that Black men entering the school are not as academically advanced as are those of other races and ethnicities.

And once in class, Black men also have the lowest rate of what’s called “persistence,” or staying enrolled from one semester to the next, compared to other groups.

From Fall 2019-Fall 2020, for example, Oakton’s “persistence” rate for all students was 49.7%. For all Black women, it was 46.7%. But for Black male students, it was 35.4%.

Oakton’s pattern is not unique. While numbers may differ from college to college, Oakton leaders say the issue is basically the same wherever you go.

The Black Male Academy, Borha says, is a “direct response” to the issue, something Oakton officials heard from focus groups that included young Black men.

Howard says African American men have historically not been aided “holistically” in many academic environments, nor have they “been supported in a way they can achieve.”

Besides direct personal help, all 25 academy students will take at least one class together each semester.

There will also be at least one academy participant in other Oakton courses, because, Borha notes, Black students have often been the only African American in their section. (Oakton’s enrollment is about 8% Black out of a total of approximately 6,300 students in credit-granting programs).

The academy will also focus heavily on recruiting students from Evanston, because the city has by far the highest percentage of Black students among the nine high school districts in Oakton’s coverage area.

Most classes will be at Oakton’s Skokie campus, with some in Des Plaines.

Several information sessions will be held, from March 22 through early May. To find out more, go to oakton.edu/academics/academy_black_men.

The Emory Williams Academy for Black Men, says Howard, will be “a true collaboration to help Black men succeed.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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