Back to the Future

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  • Saturday, I was in Chicago for the annual Bud Billiken Day Parade.

    Back in the 1920s, the founder of the Chicago’s premier black newspaper, the Chicago Defender, felt that black kids in Chicago needed something that would help them celebrate the importance of education — that going back to school should be as exciting as Christmas or Easter. The Bud Billiken Day Parade’s mascot was named after a mythical character who cared about the welfare of children. By the 1940s, the parade had become a huge marketing and advertising tool for the newspaper. Every year, hundreds of advertisers bought packages that included an ad in the paper and sponsorship in the parade, which has grown to be one of the largest parades in the country.

    Back-to-school was and is still big business. But it as African Americans, we should still be concerned about the business of not just getting our kids ready for school, but keeping them there from pre-kindergarten through college. A recent study showed that the majority of public school children in elementary through middle school aspire to go to college. But something happens between middle school and 12th grade that not only gets their mind off of college, but school period — and that’s when they begin to drop out. That means the parents, the students and the schools themselves are dropping the ball, and someone needs to be there to catch it.

    One thing I’ve learned since starting the Tom Joyner Foundation, headed by my son, Killer, is that you can’t help everybody. You can’t reach everybody. You can’t save everybody. But if you concentrate on helping, reaching and saving as many as you can, you’ll make a difference. My limit through the foundation may be hundreds; your limit may be one or two, but we’re all working toward a common goal.

    There are plenty of kids who want to go to school and stay there, and plenty of parents, teachers and schools have the same goals for those kids, but they all are lacking something they need. You may be able to help fill the gaps. If you know an elementary school-aged kid, this is the time to catch him or her while they still have the hope and dream of becoming someone great. They need someone to believe in them and to stick with them through the rough years when they may consider giving up.

    My beloved HBCUs are perfect places for you to guide them as they make their way through, but they’re struggling too and need your support.

    Last week, the foundation launched the Virtual College Fair that gives you and your children an opportunity to visit more than 60 colleges and begin to map out a future that will make for a better life. Eighty years after the Bud Billiken Parade, this is another tool that gives families a chance to hope, plan and celebrate going to school in a way that couldn’t even be imagined back then. Having access to all these colleges (mostly HBCUs, but some mainstream colleges too) while sitting in front of your laptop is a non-traditional method of choosing a school, but its message is as timeless the one spread by the founder of the Chicago Defender. A good education is crucial to success. It doesn’t guarantee it, but you’re more likely to have a better quality of life with a good education than without one. Once you get it, it’s yours, and nothing or no one can take it from you.

    And here’s another thing: Just as the Chicago Defender advertisers back in the day wanted to reach their audience and become invested in the community they served by supporting that parade, the colleges who participated in our Virtual College Fair are reaching out for you, too. Saying they want you is nice, but being willing to step up and invest time and money to show you how much they want you is even better. That’s a lesson that will never get old.

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