- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006

On the way to the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria on Saturday morning, my nervous goddaughter, Jasmine, armed with a folder full of documents, said, “If I can just get one, it will make my day.”

Well, six hours later, she did better than one and made my day as well.

“One” would have been a coveted “on-site” admission to a four-year college, but Jasmine, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, was granted immediate acceptance to two universities and received conditional admittance to two.

“It’s a good feeling to be accepted face to face, on the spot,” she said on the relaxed return trip.

Now, she knows she has educational options in her future. So many children don’t.

Jasmine, 17, was one of about 250 students who were admitted to historically black colleges and universities as part of the growing annual Alfred Street Baptist Church College Festival, representing 40 historically black colleges and universities.

“This is a passion for me … figuring out how [to organize the fair] and trying to get these children into school,” said Vance F. Davis, who organized the college fair at the church starting six years ago.

Even better, about 50 students received scholarships ranging from $500 to $10,000 from Fisk, Grambling State, Tuskegee and Lincoln universities, and the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. Most schools waived admission fees for the estimated 700 participants.

“This was a great opportunity for students, and it was much easier than filling out the forms from the packets or online,” said Jasmine, smiling.

Her relief came after navigating through the crowded rooms and corridors in the three-story church filled with colorful pennants and pompoms, slick literature, greeting tables lined with small gifts, an armful of applications and countless college recruiters, some dressed in their school sweatshirts and apparel.

What a welcome sight. Bad news about teens and young adults, especially struggling black students, abounds, so seeing so many who were obviously serious about their education was uplifting.

Some of the boys were in suits and the girls in heels; many carried portfolios and briefcases. The majority, like Jasmine, had parents, mentors, guardians or guidance counselors in tow.

Korey Jackson, 17, a student at Cardozo Senior High School in the District, said more students would have attended the fair had they known about it. A friend told him, and he was able to collect information and talk with recruiters even without all his necessary papers in hand. “I don’t have to go around and find the information on my own,” he said.

Several of his friends received acceptances, including Tina Marie Robinson, 17, a senior at Duke Ellington School for the Arts in the District. She was admitted to four schools on-site. Although she has applied to a range of schools, she hasn’t decided which to attend.

“I wanted to have a variety of different schools, more options. I know what I want to do; I just haven’t decided in what environment I want to do it,” said Tina, who wants to be a theater director.

“I can’t wait to get back to work and tell my colleagues about these students,” said Mari Tekle, an admissions officer from the University of the District of Columbia. Most had good grade-point averages, SAT and ACT scores and letters of recommendations. Only a week ago, Ms. Tekle had been disheartened by the low number of high school students in D.C. schools and by a male student who showed her a 0.19 grade-point average.

The on-site registration feature, implemented last year, has drawn additional students. Next year, the organizers may have to look for a bigger venue, Ms. Davis said.

The squeals, the smiles, the hugs, the high-fives, even the open-mouthed stares of disbelief, were obviously joyous not only for the students, but also more so, it seemed, for the volunteers and adults working so hard to help the students.

“My sister said one student broke down and cried at the table when he was accepted; then he smiled and hugged her,” Ms. Davis said. Although he had a 3.3 grade-point average, he hadn’t taken the SAT and thought no one would admit him to college.

“That’s terrific,” shouted a University of Maryland engineering graduate, upon hearing the news that his cousin had been accepted to Morgan State University in Baltimore. “Now, where to next?” he asked as the attractive, well-dressed young woman surveyed her list.

Although she is a government statistician, Ms. Davis also speaks to parents and student groups and advises them to start planning for college in the eighth or ninth grade.

Still, she worries that too many black students wait until their senior year to apply to colleges and “are already late in the process,” and she discour-ages them from waiting until the church college fair to apply.

“They’re just not guided, just not directed,” Ms. Davis said. Nonetheless, she said, “it’s a blessing to know that you can have a lifelong affect on so many young people.” Amen.

The United Negro College Fund’s 26th annual Black College Career Day, featuring 56 historically black colleges and universities, will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow, at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, 1630 Vermont Ave. NW. For more information, call 202/737-8623 or Henry Thompson at 301/839-5484.

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