CHICAGO (AP) — Jamil Boldian headed to college four years ago, arriving in small-town Ohio with a one-way Megabus ticket and $17.91 to his name.
Krishaun Branch moved to Nashville to start his college career, far from the gangs that had surrounded him much of his life.
Rayvaughn Hines settled on school in Virginia, determined to defy the fate of many young black men in his community who end up behind bars — or worse.
The three were graduates from Urban Prep, a charter high school for young black men that opened in 2006. Most students were poor, way behind in school and living with their mothers in gang-ravaged neighborhoods. But founder Tim King had made a pledge: If they stayed disciplined and dreamed big, they'd get into college. And sure enough, every member in the Class of 2010, the school's first, was accepted into four-year schools.
Four years later, the three — Boldian, Branch and Hines — are among the first group of Urban Prep grads to earn their bachelor's degrees. They overcame financial pressures, academic struggles, loneliness, self-doubt and more. But they made it.
It's too early to know how many Urban Prep grads will ultimately cross the finish line. The school won't release the number of four-year graduates until the end of 2014 but Tim King says it will exceed the 15.6 percent national average for young black men. The true test of success, he says, will come in six years — a common standard for judging graduation rates.
But what he's seen so far, King says, is enough to know Urban Prep's approach is working.
"There are times in life when you think you're right," he said after Branch's graduation. "And there are other times when you KNOW you are."
Standing on the stage at Fisk University, a tear rolled down Krishaun Branch's cheek.