Tanae Black is looking forward to her senior year in high school, when she can line up for the 100-meter dash again. For now, though, it’s all about the books.

Black, 17, a junior at Elizabeth Seton High School in Bladensburg, put track — and ballet, another of her passions — on hold to prepare her grades for the rigor of college applications. The choice impressed her grandmother, who has raised her for most of her life.

“She gave all that up to buckle down and do what she has to do,” said Laurese Black-Lowe of Capital Heights.

Black and her grandmother credit much of her determination to Ayesha Edwards-Kemp, Black’s mentor for the last three years through a program called Capital Partners for Education. CPE recently was awarded $30,000 by Washington Post Charities, a McCormick Foundation Fund which aims to support D.C.-area nonprofit organizations with programs focused on increasing educational opportunities for disadvantaged children.

“When she started asking questions about college, I realized she had been listening to what I was saying,” said Edwards-Kemp, a management and program analyst for the U.S. Department of Education and an Elizabeth Seton alumnae.

Black wasn’t always keen on college. After hearing stories from Black-Lowe, who is enrolled in college courses, and watching her older sister — now a student at St. John’s University in New York — go through the application process, she wanted nothing to do with it.

“I didn’t want to go to college,” said Black, who says she is now considering Towson, Georgetown and other area universities. “But it’s not an option.”

Black is one of 113 students currently working with CPE, a non-profit organization that steers students to area private high schools, provides up to $4,500 in financial aid and matches students with support — including mentors, test preparation, etiquette and resume building.

Created in 1993, CPE has helped 400 students over 19 years. The organization says 70 percent of the students who start in their freshman year graduate from high school and attend college; 73 percent finish college. Every one of their students who graduated from high school this year is now at college, according to CPE.

The mentors are key to those numbers, according to CPE Executive Director Khari Brown. “Anyone who has been successful has had a mentor,” said Brown.

Brown, a former high school basketball coach who has been with CPE for 11 school years, says the program attempts to give students the same advantages as those from any other family.

“Our goal is to remove barriers of income, social and economic class that these students may encounter,” Brown said.

Qualifying students must be entering ninth grade, apply to one of CPE’s partner schools, live in the D.C. area and meet a maximum income requirement. Once accepted, they must maintain satisfactory grades, demonstrate good behavior and participate in all of CPE’s programs — including community service and other workshops.

And mentorship. “My mentor, she pushes me to do my homework,” said Tanae. “She tells me about how life was at Seton and how she always wanted to go to college.”

It took a year before Tanae truly opened up to her, remembers Edwards-Kemp, but they are now close.

“It’s almost like a sister relationship, but sometimes like a mother because I have to crack a whip,” said Edwards-Kemp. “In the beginning, I was doing all the talking and she did all the listening. Now it’s reversed: I get all of the stories and do most of the listening.”

Edwards-Kemp and Tanae talk once a week by phone, multiple times via Facebook, and hang out every two weeks -- with trips to the movies, shopping and other things Black described as “girly.”

Her grandmother approves wholeheartedly. Tanae’s mother was a drug addict, even using drugs while pregnant, and she died shortly before her 15th birthday; Black-Lowe has looked after her granddaughter since she was seven months old.

When Black-Lowe took responsibility for Tanae and her sister, she says, she vowed three things: That they should move forward rather than be defined by their mother’s fate, that they would be raised with God in their lives; and that they would get an education.

She credits Edwards-Kemp with a key role in that plan.

“She’s showing Tanae that there are other things out here in life and you have to put your best foot forward and strive for excellence and success,” said Black-Lowe. “I like that about her.”

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