Black Memphis High School Earns a Commencement Speech from President Obama

Your Black World reports.

The students at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, TN have a reason to celebrate this week.  The school was recently chosen for a commencement speech to be delivered by President Obama as a result of the fact that the school has turned itself around.   Vice President Joe Biden called the school to let them know that they’d won a national contest to have the president serve as their commencement speaker.

“Out of body experience. Not real. Reeling. Those are words that come to mind right now,” said the school’s principle, Alisha Kiner.

The school is in South Memphis, a part of town that is know for its poverty and violence.  The crime rate in the area is the 14th highest in the nation and the annual income is just $11,000.  Last year, 20 percent of the school’s children lost their homes when a major housing project was demolished.

In spite of all the hurdles the school has experienced, they increased their graduation rate from 55 percent in 2007 to 80 percent in 2010.  This was the key to the school winning the contest.

The school’s principal said she realized that most of the students dropping out where leaving in the ninth grade.  So, she formed a ninth grade “academy,” with the boys being taught by male teachers and females being taught by women.  This was done to reduce classroom distractions.

The school also keeps track of students, their home addresses and phone numbers.  The principal has a graduation team she meets with to discuss the students and any personal obstacles they face.

Booker T. Washington High School was called the Clay Street School when it opened in 1873 as the first public high school for African Americans in the city of Memphis.  It’s alumni include Benjamin Hooks, the former executive director of the NAACP.   White House officials have visited the school to begin making arrangements for President Obama’s visit.