Weeks have passed since a group of young filmmakers from Chicago were selected to premiere a clip of their inspirational music video at the White House, but it wasn’t just stellar cinematic work and clever editing that made the project a true standout. As aesthetically impressive as the video may have been, it was the song’s content that made it a truly unique and empowering endeavor.
It’s only a few seconds into the video that a catchy beat drops and a young, undiscovered rapper begins spelling out the subject of the nearly 3-minute music video.
“C-H-A-M-P-S,” he methodically rhymes for the chorus.
While boxing metaphors are plentiful with stars of the music video gearing up for a tough match, the song’s content has nothing to do with standing in the ring. It has everything to do with a fighter’s spirit.
The group of filmmakers at Gary Comer College Prep, a charter school in Chicago, chose to highlight the school’s innovative C.H.A.M.P.S (Culturally Helping And Making Positive Success) mentoring program.
It’s an acronym that’s more than fitting for the young men who are involved in the program.
In the shadows of a neighborhood known for violence, the young men at Gary Comer College Prep team up with mentors and various leaders in the community in order to get the training and guidance they need to become true champions of their own destiny.
C.H.A.M.P.S aims to drastically improve the academic performance and overall potential of young Black men at the school through the program’s three E’s, which are “education, empowerment and exposure.”
That’s what the catchy music video is all about.
Steven Burres, the junior student and rapper who brings the program’s details to life with a string of intricate lyrics, explained that the program gives him the time he needs to sit down and connect with his “Black brothers” despite a busy school schedule.
“I don’t have a lot of time to sit down and actually be around my Black brothers and converse on a regular basis,” he told the Huffington Post. “It reminds me of what I come from.”
It also, along with the community mentors, establishes a sense of unity among these men.
These men work together, they grow together and they learn together in a way that forms a closely connected brotherhood among the program’s participants.
On Saturday mornings, the group of roughly 100 members come together for 3-hour meetings to connect with their mentors and work on school assignments.
On some days, special guest speakers will also be there to share even more wisdom and knowledge with the school’s C.H.A.M.P.S.
“We’re telling these young men, who at this point in their life haven’t had accomplishments or received awards, that they are born to win in any situation in life,” Vondale Singleton, Gary Comer’s assistant principal, told the Huffington Post.
That message is particularly important for the school nestled in a neighborhood battling high poverty rates and holding rank as one of the most violent areas in Chicago.
In an environment that may otherwise rarely provide a positive space for these young Black men, this program never fails to give them a safe haven.
“When you’re surrounded by successful and positive people, you can unwind and talk to people how I really want to talk,” said Rishard Bournes, a senior at the school who is attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall, told the Huffington Post. “I feel like I’m free. I see it as a beacon of hope. We’re working toward something and we’ve got something positive going for us.”
The success of these young men should serve as an example for schools across the nation looking to give their own Black students the type of opportunities that are too often kept out of the reach of Black youth.
As Singleton noted, young Black men all across the nation need such programs in order to help them overcome the unique obstacles they will face in a country still battling with the persistence of its racist roots.
The key to pulling up those roots, according to Singleton, is to give young Black students the tools they need to do so.
“The healing that everyone is looking for won’t come through media, government, church or school,” Singleton added. “I truly believe the healing is going to come from young people getting up in front of the media, in front of the school, in front of the church and saying, ‘Hey, listen to me, there is hope for you!’ I want the world to hear their voice and see there’s a lot of positive things going on.”
For the school’s current C.H.A.M.P.S, their successes within the classroom have now given them the confidence they need to become truly remarkable leaders in the future.
“If we can make positive success in Chicago,” Bournes said. “We can make it anywhere.”