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Campaign Puts Focus on Black Students' Achievements

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Washington

Israel Tribble Jr. has been a university administrator, a special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education, and now the president of an education fund. But he hasn't forgotten what it felt like to aspire to nothing more than his high school's club for varsity athletes.

"To get a jacket and join the Monogram Club: That was my whole goal in life," Mr. Tribble, the president of the Tampa-based Florida Education Fund, recalled last week.

To inspire young African-Americans--including those growing up poor and fatherless as Mr. Tribble did--to set their sights higher is a central goal of a new national Campaign for African-American Achievement launched this fall. Mr. Tribble was one of several black leaders on hand here last week at a forum aimed at drawing attention to the campaign, which is being spearheaded by the National Urban League and the Congress of National Black Churches.

The twin goals of the campaign are to convince black children that "achievement matters as never before" and to "create consumer demand for better schools," explained Hugh B. Price, the Urban League's president and chief executive officer.

To those ends, the campaign will seek to mobilize the 20 million members of the eight black denominations that are members of the congress, a Washington-based coalition. It will also tap the resources of the 115 local affiliates for the Urban League, an 87-year-old civil rights group based in New York City. Some 18 other black fraternal and professional organizations also have signed on to the campaign.

Black Honor Society

As part of their effort to counteract peer pressure that often discourages academic achievement, campaign organizers plan to create a national honor society for young blacks.

The new National Achievers Society will be modeled on a recognition program in Florida founded by Mr. Tribble. Since 1986, the McKnight Achievers Society has inducted 14,000 young black students in the state, Mr. Tribble said.

Designer jackets, badges, and sashes are some of the inducements the society will use to keep students on the straight and narrow. The first induction ceremony is scheduled for late spring, with retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell presiding.

"We will create a different kind of gang for our young people," Mr. Price said last week. "It is, in effect, an achievement gang."

Another element of the plan is to designate September as "achievement month." To kick off the campaign, organizers staged events in cities including Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Tacoma, Wash., this past September to showcase the accomplishments of young African-Americans. Black ministers also addressed educational issues in their sermons on Sept. 20, and will be encouraged to do so throughout the month in the years ahead.

A third element is a national public-service advertising campaign targeting the black media.

When it comes to schools themselves, campaign organizers said they would first focus on collecting data to determine whether students have access to resources the campaign sees as crucial to success. Those include early-childhood education; fully qualified teachers; a challenging curriculum; well-organized and equipped schools; and high-quality after-school programs.

Organizers hope local members of their churches and organizations will then use the data to lean on school and state officials to improve. At a time of rising academic expectations, campaign organizers said, it is crucial for policymakers to develop educational "delivery standards" to ensure that students get what they need to meet higher content and performance standards.

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