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Jun 09, 2014 05:37 AM EDT

Urban Prep Grads Taste Academic Success with College Degrees

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Jamil Boldian, Krishaun Branch and Rayvaughn Hines are amongst the first group of Urban Prep grads to earn their bachelor's degrees, setting an example to many young black men belonging to their community who mostly end up behind bars or get recruited into gangs at a much earlier age.

The vision behind the establishment of Chicago's Urban Prep in 2006 was to provide a college-preparatory high school for African-American boys and see them gain admission at a four-year higher education institution and graduate with flying colors.

Founder Tim King said that most of the Urban Prep students come from impoverished families and gang-ravaged neighborhoods. King said that if they remain disciplined and set serious goals, they would surely get accepted into college. And they did!

Abiding by the school's values, each student in the class of 2010 (the school's first) including Boldian, Branch and Hines got enrolled in four-year schools and fared well despite financial pressures, and feelings of loneliness and self-doubt.

"You just can't say to a student, 'OK, now here's your chance to go to college. ... See you later,'" King said. "You've got to keep being there to provide support," Washington Post reports.

King said that the 2014 graduation results show that the Urban Prep's approach is working. He is hopeful that the number of four-year graduates will surpass the 15.6 percent national average for young black men.

Branch, a psychology graduate from Fisk University, hung out with gangbangers as a kid.

"I just feel like God's got my back. I had people who wanted to see me succeed as much as I did," Branch said. "That helped me tremendously," Branch said.

On the other hand Hines, a Gates Millennium Scholar, accepted his psychology degree from the University of Virginia. He begins his graduate studies at Virginia, this fall, and aspires to become a school counselor.

Hines credits his success to his family, neighbours and local drug dealers who have supported him right through the course despite discouraging words from his professors.

Attending college also helped Hines to make friends from different races.

"I'd never been around white people before," Hines said. "When I got here, it was cultural shock, basically. I recommend people get out of their comfort zone and stop trying to have negative stereotypes about every race."

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