All Aboard….Destination: Dreams

California State University officials will be speaking at Super Sunday events at more than 100 predominantly African American churches throughout the state in February. The events kicked off on Sunday, Feb. 13 when CSU Chancellor Charles B. Reed made a stop at St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Bakersfield — one of two churches statewide he will address this month.

Super Sunday is a CSU program to connect with and inform African American students and their families about what it takes to get into college. A central theme of Super Sunday messages is a call for students to begin planning for college admission as early as middle school and to enroll in challenging classes that prepare them for college.

CSUB President Dr. Horace Mitchell shared the following insightful story about the importance of early preparation.

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Two years ago before I spoke at Oakland’s Acts Full Gospel Church of God in Christ as part of Super Sunday, I was awakened throughout the early morning by the sound of the horns of nearby Amtrak trains.

It occurred to me that day that a train was a prefect metaphor or representation for a student’s journey. First, I heard the early preparation train. Then came a college train. Followed by a life enrichment train. Then I heard the last train — the dream train — passing by.

In a subsequent conversation, Rev. J. Alfred Smith, Jr., pastor of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, told me, “Education is the new underground railroad, except that it does not have to be underground.” I believe the “train” metaphor is better than the long-used “leaky pipeline” metaphor in describing the pathway of students from K-12 to higher education.

One cannot get to his or her final destination without first riding on the train before it. It is clear to me that a student’s journey must begin by getting a ticket on the early preparation train. We do not want students getting on “dead end” trains from which they cannot transfer.

This is the very basis of Super Sunday, the CSU’s partnership initiative with African American churches. It informs African American students and their families about what it takes to get into college, and the importance of doing so. Super Sunday is not simply a recruitment strategy. Instead, it is all about early preparation. We want all African American students to start as early as the sixth grade to prepare themselves for college. Once they are well prepared, we will take our chances on recruiting them to a CSU campus.

We are making great strides. The undergraduate enrollment of African American students at CSU campuses has increased by more than 20 percent since the initiative began six years ago. Nearly one in every 15 CSU students is African American, roughly matching the statewide population.

However, there is still much work to be done as it relates to academic preparation. For example, only about 19 percent of African American students who graduate from high school are eligible to attend a CSU campus. We want to double that percentage in the short-term and move toward 100 percent in the long-term.

Students are our future. We need to make sure they are ready when their time comes. But, there must be a commitment from many to ensure they board that first train. Parents, teachers, friends, community members and congregations need to serve as passionate conductors, yelling ‘ALL ABOARD.’

Ultimately, we will all benefit from our students’ successful transfer to each successive train en route to the dream train — achieving their dreams and the dreams we have for them.

— By Dr. Horace Mitchell, President, CSU Bakersfield

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