Calling Forth Greatness

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Standing next to Michelangelo’s statue of David is awe-inspiring.

Meticulously carved from marble, the 17-foot-tall statue solidifies its place as a premier piece of Renaissance art.  Where as previous generations of artists were ashamed of the human body, Michelangelo celebrates the beauty and sheer physicality of David. Every year millions of people flock to Florence, Italy to gaze at his iconic figure.

A little known fact about Michelangelo’s statue: The 17-foot chunk of marble used to carve David was passed over by numerous artists. For 25 years it sat in a junkyard outside of Florence. One artist attempted to carve something, ended up damaging the stone, and eventually aborted the project. Artist after artist walked by and ignored the large piece of rock.

But when Michelangelo visited the junkyard, he observed something different. He saw the marble’s potential--not its imperfections--and went on to call forth greatness. Multiple sculptors examined the same rock; only one man saw something different.

I share this story because it describes what our staff, interns, and volunteers are doing in Camden: They’re calling forth greatness in a place that has been abandoned, discarded, and written off as a failed city. Day after day, dedicated UrbanPromise workers look beyond the imperfections and labels attributed to Camden youth and articulate a vision of greatness for every child who walks through our doors. And our children begin to live that vision.

Adrian, a senior at our UrbanPromise Academy high school, walked into my office  yesterday. He’d like me to write a college recommendation for him. His heart is set on attending Eastern University this fall.

Three years ago the young man was in a very different place. He was on the fast track to dropping out of public school--and dropping out of life. “I wasn’t going to class,” he confessed. “I was being a knuckle head.” In a last ditch effort his mother enrolled him at the Academy.

Adrian reminds me of Michelangelo’s “imperfect stone.”

His self-esteem was basically nonexistent, his motivation dormant, and his academic levels far below grade level. He was a follower, not a leader.

Then Adrian took a class with our English teacher Michael Lovaglio, who believed the young man could learn to write. Adrian is now an avid journaler. He met our director of experiential learning, Jim Cummings, who believed Adrian could learn to lead. He’s since taken on several leadership roles both in and outside of the classroom. Adrian met our Academy principal, Demetrius Marlowe, who believed he could learn to be a man of faith and principles--that’s exactly what Adrian has become.

Mr. Lovaglio, Mr. Cummings, and Mr. Marlowe all looked at Adrian--an “imperfect stone”--and called forth greatness. That’s why his goal for the fall is to attend Eastern University.

And that’s why UrbanPromise sees 93% of alumni go on to college--in a city where fewer than 20% of graduates ever attend an institution of higher education. That’s why our young people are becoming teachers, ministers, social workers, and entrepreneurs, and returning to Camden to make a difference.

But in order for our staff to continue calling forth greatness, they need your help. UrbanPromise’s academic and college prep programs can’t function without your generosity.

As our seniors finalize college essays and send off their last few applications, the support and encouragement offered within our educational programming is more important than ever.

Help our students get one step closer to making their dreams of attending colleges like Eastern University come true.

Just $30 covers a college visit; $50 pays for an SAT or ACT test. Donate $100 to provide FAFSA (financial aid) parents’ night. Or consider giving $300 to provide college essay and application assistance to our teens.

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Our students are counting on you.

Dr. Bruce Main 
President