Cameron Clarke, an African American Philadelphia high school senior, distinguished himself, his parents, Germantown Academy, where is an “A” student, and the city: He was one of just 360 teens nationwide to earn a perfect score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
Some 1.66 million students across America sat for the rigorous examination on which Clarke scored a perfect 2400. Only one other Philadelphia area senior, an unidentified young woman, also earned a perfect score on the test this year.
Yet without Jenice Armstrong, an insightful Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, very little, if any, news about his extraordinary achievement would probably have reached many of the city’s residents, much less a national audience. Armstrong is African American and a widely respected writer.
Peter Clarke, Cameron’s father, spoke of his extraordinary achievement in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com. The elder Clarke, who said his son is very modest and humble, “doesn’t want to brag or boast.”
Nevertheless, the elder Clarke said, “he is the one who set all this in motion.” Peter Clarke said he told his son, “I am very proud of you, but I am also very happy for you, because you did this on your own.”
Mary Clarke, Cameron’s mother, who is a Spanish professor at Father Judge Catholic School in Northeast Philadelphia, was not available for an interview. Peter Clarke manages The Jamaican Reef Restaurant and Lounge in South Philadelphia, in upscale Penn’s Landing.
Cameron, said his father, “really didn’t want anyone to know about his score, so he didn’t tell anyone at Germantown Academy about it when he got the result in June.” Armstrong received information about Cameron’s achievement, his father said, “through happenstance.”
On Monday afternoon, the elder Clarke said, he asked Cameron, “How do you feel?” about the publicity he’s received and Armstrong’s column. “Good and bad,” Cameron replied, his father said, “because I really didn’t want everyone to know.”
Richard Schellhas, the headmaster of Germantown Academy’s Upper School, in a brief interview described young Clarke as “an extraordinary young man who represents all the best things of his generation. He is smart, funny and a true Renaissance man in the breath of his talent.”
Cameron is the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s first cellist, a member of Germantown Academy’s Math Club, a math tutor, writes for the school newspaper and runs for its cross country team.
West Philadelphia Congressman Chaka Fattah, told BlackAmericaWeb.com that “Cameron Clarke is the rock star of academia.” A perfect SAT score, he said, “is an amazing achievement for any young person and that’s certainly the case for this African American young man from Mount Airy.”
The dictionary, he added, “is the only place where ‘success’ comes before ‘work’ and Cameron Clarke is an example to young people in all Philadelphia schools, public and private, of what hard work can achieve.”
State Senator Anthony Williams, who many expect to eventually launch a mayoral campaign, as did his late father decades ago, commended Clarke and his parents.
“This shows that a committed student, parents organized in a practical purpose of effort, that not just the possibility, but the effort, can result in extraordinary moments like this that we all stand up and salute.”
“While we celebrate this individual achievement,” Williams said, “it takes place against the backdrop of those who deserve similar opportunities, but who did not receive either a full or partial scholarship, whose families are constrained by where they live and very limited financial resources.
Williams, the Whip of the Pennsylvania Democratic Caucus, is a member of the Education, Judiciary and Banking Committees.
Owen Knox, Ph.D, who 40 years ago was a founder of Los Angeles’ Council of Black Administrators (COBA), was full of praise for young Clarke.
Yet Dr. Knox, 94, spoke candidly to the vast, untapped scholastic ability among African American students and what he views as the abysmal failure of most public school systems to unlock them.
“In education, what you get in student achievement is what you expect. So if teachers are motivated to expect less than stellar accomplishments from African American students, less is what they will always get.”
Moreover, Dr. Knox said, “when you don’t expect blacks to achieve honors such as this one, then something is wrong with the system; which is, in itself, an indictment of educators if they believe that achievements like this young man’s are some strange or unusual behavior for black students.”
COBA, Dr. Knox said, “continues to be an advocate to improve the quality of education for black students, and, for African American administrators, a level playing field in competing for positions of authority.”
The National Alliance of Black School Educators, in an exclusive statement for BlackAmericaWeb.com, said, “we applaud Cameron Clarke, and, additionally, his parents and the Germantown Academy are to be applauded as well.”
Any student who achieves such a milestone should be celebrated, the statement continued. “As an organization seeking to improve the academic achievement of under served students, especially those of African descent, it is particularly energizing to learn that an African American student–Mr. Clarke– is one of only 360 students in the country to receive a perfect score.”
But, the statement concluded, “while we are not sure if Mr. Clarke is the only African American in the group of 360, it is our belief that there can be more Cameron Clarke’s in this country, given the appropriate support, motivation, instruction and school resources.”