student success

Despite the Odds, Black Students Are Not Only Winning But Are Making History

As activists, we get so bogged down and wrapped up in everything that’s wrong with the education system and often miss out on the celebratory moments. Those instances where, despite the odds and obstacles, Black people are not only winning but are making history.

So allow me to sprinkle some of that joy in your lives with a few incredible stories from what I call “2019’s National Black Graduation.”


It’s a Family Affair

Most of us couldn’t imagine going to school with our parents. As a matter of fact, we would’ve probably passed out if our parents showed up to our school unannounced.

But that wasn’t the case for these three families.

In Ypsilanti, Michigan, this father, son and daughter graduated from Eastern Michigan University together.


Father and son, Antonio and Brandon Gathers, graduated together from South Carolina State University.


And Sharhonda Wilson skipped her ceremony at Ferris State University because it was the same day as her son Stephon’s graduation from Central Michigan University. She received the ultimate surprise when the two universities worked together to have them both walk across the stage together at Central Michigan.


Valedictorians, House of Generation Z, First of Their Race

If you don’t watch HBO’s hit series, "Game of Thrones," you won’t get the title reference. That’s okay—I’ll break it down for you.

Kelling McGowan and Tobechukwu “Tobi” Phillips made history by becoming the first Black valedictorians in their school’s histories.

Kellin is a student at St. Thomas High School in Houston, Texas, and is the first Black valedictorian in the school’s 119 year history.


Rounding out his senior year with a 4.97 GPA, Kellin is headed to the University of Chicago where he’ll major in political science.

Then there’s Tobi, also from Texas. In a school with 2,800 students—in which only 86 are Black—she broke the 125 year streak at Alvin High School with a 6.9 GPA. Aside from electives, Tobi only took advanced placement courses and earned A’s in each and every one of her classes.


Tobi will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall to study nursing.

A University Pays Homage to Its First Black Student

It’s never too late to learn about civil rights pioneers like Autherine Lucy Foster—esteemed educator and my Soror of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated—who was the first Black person to attend the University of Alabama.

When she applied to the school in 1952, Autherine was denied admittance because she was Black. With legal support from Thurgood Marshall, she took the university to court and was finally allowed to enroll in 1956—two years after the groundbreaking Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board that integrated schools.

Facing extreme harassment, physical danger and outrage over her enrollment, Lucy was expelled just three days after starting class. But 63 years after her expulsion, Mrs. Foster received an honorary degree from the University of Alabama, recognizing her heroism and status as a civil rights trailblazer.


The Road Has Been Difficult But, We Persevere

When it comes to equity and fairness in education for Black people, the struggle is and has been real. But, if you’re ever feeling defeated, know that there were resilient people before us who fought and won, great people today who are examples of how we win and Black kids under us that need to stand on our shoulders for their win. Keep hope alive.

Tanesha Peeples
Tanesha Peeples is driven by one question in her work—“If not me, then who?” As the former Deputy Director of Activist Development for brightbeam, Tanesha merges the worlds of communications and grassroots activism to push for change in the public education system. Her passion for community and relentless mission for justice and liberation drive her in uplifting and amplifying the voices and ...

Join the Movement