No. 857



The word passion is one that we hear quite often in our English language. It means, “Any intense, extreme, or over-powering emotion,” according to my trusty dictionary. As it relates to people, you show me a person who has a passion about something truly worthwhile, and I will show you a person who will get more done and often excel in the process. Such is the case for a group of male African-American students at Rivercrest High School in Wilson, Ark. These students became known as the Gentlemen of Knowledge, and there is a story behind this distinction that I want to tell you about it in this column.
Let me say up front that the information I am about to share will help minority students, especially African-American, all across our country. So tune me in, as it affects you whether you realize it or not. I will tell you how before I finish. This story begins at the end of the 2010 school year when the end-of-course literacy exam revealed that African-American juniors scored 31 percent and their white counterparts scored 64 percent. These scores are typical in many school districts across the nation. This was unacceptable to a teacher and an assistant principal, both white.
They decided to try a novel approach, asking the students, grade by grade, for their help in bridging the gap in test scores. All African-American students were interviewed in small groups. They were asked what the school district could do differently to make a difference. Educators wanted to know how to better reach members of this population, and it did happen. Just as important, a group of African-American male students were offended that minority students were falling behind their white peers, formed the Gentlemen of Knowledge to hold each other accountable, and to serve as examples for their fellow students of all races.
In one year, African-American scores on that end-of-course literacy exam rose 17 percentage points to 48 percent scoring proficiency. Educators expect more improvement in the current year. As a result of their success, the Gentlemen of Knowledge are making a name for themselves, and other school districts are following suit. They have even presented a session before 700 members of the Arkansas School Boards Association who were ready to carry them out on their shoulders after it was over. Meanwhile, the Gentlemen are solidifying and expanding their mission. They also started a service project to collect used shoes to benefit children in Kenya.
Membership requirements have been created that include a minimum 2.5 grade-point average, good behavior and demonstrated leadership. Here is what senior Terrian Tyler told the school boards association: “You pay more attention to what you do because you don’t want to get kicked out of the Gentlemen of Knowledge. I mean, this is where the cool kids are.” What is really exciting is that now a number of white students want to be in the group, and a group for young ladies is also being formed.
I am indebted to my friend, and fellow columnist, Steve Brawner, who has written two columns on this subject and for giving me permission to share portions with you. I mentioned earlier that I would tell you how this would help you. When minority students do well, they stay in school, and many go on to college and get a degree. They pay taxes and become successful, productive citizens. It’s true – Knowledge is Power. I don’t have to tell you what happens to many of them without an education, and we all pay the bill.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To begin a bookcase literacy project visit You won’t go wrong helping a needy child.)