After Africa, some Baraka School alumni soar while others struggle
Nearly eight years ago, its last class of students left the streets of Baltimore for an education in Africa that was meant to change the course of their lives. Yet the uneven legacy of the Baraka School continues to unfold.
This month, one of the young men, Romesh Vance, featured in the well-regarded documentary "The Boys of Baraka" stood before a judge in a courtroom, where he was indicted on federal drug-conspiracy charges.
Other former Baraka students have been gunned down, joined gangs and followed a path the school tried to lead them away from.
"Every child is unique in their situation," said Robert C. Embry, president of the Abell Foundation, which funded the experimental school. "The child was somewhere else for the years before Baraka. You can't replace those 12 years. All you can do is try and make things better."
Life for many Baraka alumni did get better.
One started a clothing business after returning from Baraka. Another is a counselor at the Center for Talented Youth in Los Angeles. De'Von Brown, a Baraka alumnus, is a rising junior at the Maryland Institute College of Art studying film production.
"It was such a great experience," said Brown, 20, who is making a documentary this summer about murals in Baltimore. "I think seeing the world is important to the development of a person."
The program, which began in 1996, took about 20 disadvantaged middle school-age boys each year to a boarding school in Kenya, where for two years, they were immersed in activities meant to improve their social skills and academic performance.
Back to Baltimore
The Baraka School was forced to close in 2003 because of political unrest in Kenya, sending the boys back into the Baltimore school system after facing different obstacles in the Kenyan outback.
Besides removing the boys from their troubled neighborhoods and providing them with a unique opportunity abroad, Embry said, the school raised the boys' academic achievement.
According to a 2002 evaluation of the Baraka School prepared for the Baltimore school board, state test results showed that before attending Baraka, the students had a cumulative passing rate of 63.2 percent in reading and 26.3 percent in math. After Baraka, the boys had cumulative passing rates of 84.2 percent and 42.1 percent.
More recently, the Abell Foundation reported that as of June of last year, of the 89 students who had completed the Baraka program, 44 received high school diplomas and 11 received GEDs. The 62 percent graduation rate is near the overall graduation rate for city school students. The foundation did not have current records on the number of Baraka students who went on to college.