Dec. 15, 2017 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Grand Rapids Community College will celebrate new members of Alpha Beta Omega, a leadership development program for African American men, with a "jacketing" ceremony on March 1.
ABO will present jackets to 25 new members from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in the banquet rooms of the Wisner-Bottrall Applied Technology Center, 151 Fountain St. NE. Alyssa Hearin, of FOX 17, will host the event, and GRCC President Dr. Bill Pink will deliver the keynote address.
This is the first time that the jackets, which have the ABO crest on them, are being presented in a special ceremony.
"They promote a sense of unity, identity and professionalism for ABO," GRCC associate professor Andre Fields said of the jackets. "They also foster within our members a sense of belonging, dignity and identity."
Fields started ABO in 2012 to address a disturbing statistic: In 2011, 15 percent of all students in the general population graduated from GRCC after three years, but only 5 percent of African American male students did. Members of ABO, which is funded by the Wege Foundation, work with mentors on strategies for success in college, career and life. They also have access to one-on-one tutoring, workshops, study tables, and math and writing groups.
For Indiana native Abdul Mcgraw, who is working on a business management degree, ABO was his "home away from home."
"Honestly, I knew I needed to go to college and I wanted to, but I didn't know where I would end up -- if I would even end up in college," he said. "ABO advisors and coaches help you feel welcome and are cool. The group is just a positive environment where you feel welcome and they stay on you to make sure your grades are looking how they should!"
Jesse Krewson, who plans to major in social work at either Grand Valley State University or Calvin College, said ABO has become an important part of his life.
"After coming back from the military, I found myself in social isolation -- really struggling to maintain my enthusiasm for school, with no family to turn to," he said. "The ABO program has been my support system, my 'older brother.' Even more than that -- a lifeline."
In addition to their academic pursuits, ABO members develop their leadership skills by working in the community. They have mentored elementary students in Grand Rapids Public Schools, helping with a reading program and organizing toy collections and game days. They also serve as ushers for community events and give presentations in area high schools.
John Cowles, dean of Student Success and Retention, said ABO is reversing the trend of black male academic underachievement at GRCC.
"When we dive deep in the data, both locally and nationally, these men need extra support to ensure their academic success," Cowles said. "With the help of the Wege Foundation and college resources, the men who participate in ABO are just as successful -- or more so -- than students who are not at risk."
GRCC data shows that at least seven of every 10 ABO members successfully achieve their goals, versus four out of 10 black males who are not ABO members.
Of the approximately 200 students ABO has served over the past five years, 26 have graduated from GRCC. Another 28 have transferred to four-year institutions, including the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan, Davenport, Cornerstone, Grand Valley State and Ferris State universities. Four of them have earned bachelor's degrees so far, and two are in graduate school.
Pink said the jacketing ceremony on March 1 will be a milestone for the new ABO members and the organization as a whole.
"We have definite cause to celebrate!” he said. “Not only are we adding to the ABO community, but more importantly, we will celebrate the academic successes of our ABO men."
Grand Rapids Community College has been offering educational opportunities in West Michigan for more than 100 years. Established in 1914, the college offers degree courses, certification and training programs, and workshops and personal enrichment classes. Offerings are held on GRCC’s downtown Grand Rapids campus, and at several locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties, as well as through distance learning.