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Southland, a miracle in the face of bleak odds

Amid a public education system that remains separate and unequal, the south suburban charter school fulfills a dream of quality education.

Students and Robert Lane, director of college admissions at Southland College Prep Charter High School in Richton Park, display a banner marking a record $54.2 million in merit-based scholarships for the 116-member 2019 graduating class.
Photo: Shane Cleminson for Southland

There once was a dream called Southland. It was as invisible as a wisp of air beneath a Ping-Pong ball inside a glass machine for a school lottery, with the fate of children hanging in the balance.

Once, the dream that was Southland was barely a whisper, a fragile hope. Today, Southland College Prep Charter High School in Richton Park stands as the living manifestation of that dream — as an enviable symbol of educational possibility and of what can happen when educators raise the bar and put children first.

The result: The miracle of inspired lives.

OPINION

Miracle — as in an amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something. A miracle in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, cradled by Dr. Blondean Y. Davis, whose vision, heart and purpose has always been singular: It’s about the children, always the children.

A miracle — amid a public education system that remains separate and unequal, a weapon of mass destruction for black and brown children.

A miracle — wrought by the dream of a quality education that might provide a vehicle to socioeconomic equality and academic excellence amid the sweeping tide of mediocrity and downright malfeasance in public education that consigns too many to underachievement and illiteracy.

The Southland miracle materialized amid the void of nothingness and the longing of a community for somethingness. For an end finally to the excuses offered for why mostly black schools, now run by black administrators and black school boards in mostly black communities, can’t seem to reverse the cycle of the miseducation of black children.

A miracle — one produced by the blood, sweat and tears of hard work and sacrifice. A miracle birthed by a dream. That germinated from a tiny seed of faith, planted in the fertile ground of hope. Watered by the steadfast labor of expectation.

Southland — more than just a dream. It has grown from a tiny seedling into a proud and sprawling tree. And its proof lies in the fruit it bears.

Started in 2010, Southland has produced six graduating classes. This year’s 116-member class (all accepted to college) has been offered a school record $54.2 million in merit-based scholarships by scores of U.S. colleges and universities, Southland officials announced this week.

That brings the amount of merit-based scholarships by Southland graduates over the last six years to $154 million, even as the school has gained national and statewide recognition. In fact, Southland was the only charter high school in Illinois to earn an “exemplary” designation in 2018 by the state’s Board of Education. It has earned other honors too numerous to list here.

“This is what happens when the impossible becomes a reality and a vision is realized. …When a community’s unfulfilled dreams are achieved,” said Dr. Davis, Southland’s CEO.

Miracles. I have witnessed the resurrection of educational hope embodied in Southland with my own eyes as an 18-year south suburban resident. As a writer, I chronicled the school’s fragile beginning, even as it withstood each relentless storm from adversaries and naysayers.

I am a Southland advocate. An unapologetic believer in charter schools. A proponent of an alternative in public education in communities where schools perennially fail.

I was a Southland believer long before my daughter was among its first graduating class. Long before my son (among the class of 2020 that will mark the school’s 10th year anniversary) walked through its doors. And long before (full disclosure) my wife two years ago became the school’s director of communication.

I believed in Southland when it was still only a dream. And I still believe as I watch it thrive and produce the miracle of inspired lives.

John Fountain can be reached at Author@Johnwfountain.com

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