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Literacy called key to putting minorities in college

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 12:02 a.m.
Msgr. Raymond East speaks with students and the media during an informational Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Jan. 21, 2013, at St. Vincent College in Unity. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Aliethia McLeod of Mandebille, Jamaica, a St. Vincent College junior biology major, signs the 'Dream' message board during an informational Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Jan. 21, 2013. Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review

The way to increase minority enrollment in colleges and universities is to improve the literacy rates of students, a former director of the Washington Archdiocese's Office of Black Catholics said Monday at St. Vincent College's observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“It is literacy that is a path to education. It is sad that there are more (African-American) men in prison than in college,” said Monsignor Raymond East, a nationally known speaker and evangelist from Washington.

While the nation's school system has come under fire in some circles for failing to educate youngsters, East said that a successful school system must have the support of the parents and community as well as teachers and administrators.

As leader of the civil rights movement, King fought for equality in schools, but his dream has yet to be fully realized in the 21st century, said East, whose grandfather was a minister at Zion Baptist Church in Pittsburgh's Hill District. East said there still are places in the United States where “separate but unequal” school facilities exist, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1954 in Brown v. Topeka, Kansas Board of Education that state-sanctioned segregation of schools was unconstitutional.

“You can drive to places where things are completely separate and very unequal. That's not what America is about,” said East, who declined to identify where the second-rate school facilities are located.

Speaking on the day of the second inauguration of President Obama, decades after King and other civil rights leaders fought just to get the right to vote, East said that it is a sign of hope that “we can strive for high ideals and we can reach them.”

East told more than 70 people who attended a prayer service in memory of the slain civil rights leader that King was chosen by civil rights leaders in Montgomery, Ala., to lead a bus boycott.

“I believe God chose the right man,” East said.

He urged the audience that “we should have a dream today.”

To keep the dream alive of a college education for minority students, schools need to show the students the benefits of a college education and how supportive the school can be, said Taleesha Johnson, 21, of Pittsburgh's North Side, who is studying communication-public relations and advertising.

Johnson, who is president of a student organization, Visionaries of H.O.P.E. (Helping One People Evolve), said making students aware of the diversity on campus and bringing people together creates an atmosphere that helps retain minority students.

Nationwide, the percentage of black students in colleges and universities increased to 14 percent in 2010, up from 9 percent in 1976, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

At St. Vincent, which has an enrollment of about 1,650, about 10 percent of the students are minorities, including international students, said Suzanne Wilcox English, St. Vincent's director of marketing and communications. That's up from about 2 percent a decade ago, English said.

“Increasing diversity is part of our strategic plan. We have a broad outreach,” English said.

That outreach has included South Florida, thanks to Spirit Airlines' flights connecting Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Unity to Ft. Lauderdale, English said.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or

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