Editorial: A place for ‘A Better Chance’

  • Pierre Tilus, an ABC scholar, plays basketball with Keidy Cardoso, of Amherst, at a court where the students live. Back left is Roshawn Jacobs, 16, an ABC scholar, Charlie Woodfine-Holmes, 18, of Amherst, Darius Robinson, 17, of Amherst, Azumir Medina, 14, an ABC scholar, and Mayouri Wath, 16, of Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Published: 6/26/2019 8:00:21 PM

The name says it all — A Better Chance. For the young men of color who have participated in the Amherst ABC program over the last 50 years, the program has given them just that — an opportunity to excel in academics, extracurricular activities and community building that they weren’t getting in the inner-city neighborhoods where they are from.

Earlier this month, ABC paused to throw itself a much-deserved 50th birthday bash to celebrate its successes over the last five decades, and to look ahead to the future.

As illustrated by a June 15 front-page story (“Getting a jump-start on education, life,”) to mark ABC’s 50th, this is a program that has changed lives for the better.

Amherst deserves credit for hosting the program and making the students feel welcomed. The students also deserve credit for the tremendous effort they invest, including making difficult adjustments far from home.

Take Pierre Tilus, who arrived at Amherst’s ABC house from Bridgeport, Connecticut, in the fall of 2016. “I couldn’t sleep my first few nights here,” he told Gazette reporter Scott Merzbach. “It was hard because there was so much quiet. You get used to that noisy background.”

Three years later, Tilus has grown to appreciate life here and is on schedule to graduate alongside his classmates at Amherst Regional High School.

It’s one thing to be offered an opportunity. It’s quite another thing to seize that opportunity and take advantage of it, particularly given the natural tendency for young students to become homesick.

While there’s no doubt the 130 alumni of the program over the last 50 years deserve credit for working hard for their futures, ABC’s success would not be possible without a welcoming and supportive community such as Amherst. That, too, should be celebrated.

Community support comes in the form of fundraisers and private donations — it takes $130,000 a year to run the program, which includes the costs of housing the students at a home on North Prospect Street — volunteers in the form of house parents, tutors and others, and institutional support from places like Amherst Regional High School and Amherst College, which helped found the program in 1968 and continues to provide support.

The Amherst ABC is part of a larger, nationwide program originally founded with a grant from the Charles E. Merrill Foundation. The grant allowed inner-city African-American students to attend 23 schools with high-quality college preparatory programs. Today, Amherst Regional High is one of more than 300 schools that host students.

The statistics alone speak to the success of the program: Nationwide, the program has placed more than 16,000 middle and high school students from poor schools in wealthier private or public schools, and more than 85 percent of the ABC’s graduating seniors have gone on to graduate from four-year colleges.

ABC should be rightfully proud of its work in Amherst over the last five decades. We hope 50 more years are on the way.

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