5 questions for the Rev. Phillip Davis
Bishop Phillip Davis, senior pastor of Nations Ford Community Church, greets one of the students arriving Monday for opening day of the church's Male Leadership Academy. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)
Bishop Phillip Davis, senior pastor of Nations Ford Community Church, has some definite opinions about how to address the plight of young black males.
Parents Joshua and Celestine Peters escort their oldest son, Elijah, to his first day of kindergarten at The Male Leadershop Academy at Nations Ford Community Church. "It's something I've been praying for," Joshua Peters said of the academy. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com.)
On Monday, the same day Charlotte-Mecklenburg students returned from summer break, Davis and his Nations Ford congregation launched The Male Leadership Academy, a private school for boys in grades K-3. Davis said his vision is to add one grade each year through high school, and to maybe one day offer a college curriculum.
About 15 boys were enrolled as of Monday, and Davis said his staff had been taking calls all weekend from parents exploring last-minute alternatives to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
“We’ll see at the end of the week how it’s settling in,” he said.
Davis said the school would focus on character development as well as academics. To set the tone, about 50 men from Nations Ford Church lined a hallway to greet the arriving students.
Weeks before the academy opened, Davis sat with Qcitymetro.com to discuss his vision for the academy. The Q&A below is based on that interview.
Qcitymetro: How did the idea for an all-male school come about?
About 50 men from Nations Ford Community Church lined the hallways Monday to welcome students on opening day of The Male Leadership Academy. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com.)
Davis: Actually, one of our elders said he remembers me talking about it when we first started the church (in 1988). It was part of the overall vision plan. The overall vision plan was and still is to revolutionize and change this entire Nations Ford corridor. That’s the ultimate I have in mind, in terms of housing and development. I believe that because of its centrality to Interstate 77 and the airport, this corridor has the potential to be a high-quality place for people to live and raise families. So the vision is not just to have an all-males school but a system of education. That system of education would be from early childhood development all the way through college. I figure that if Jerry Falwell can do it, we can do it. It’s just a matter of getting people to understand and make it a priority.”
Q: Why the emphasis on males?
The Male Leadership Academy charges a $150 registration fee and a $50 application fee. Total tuition in $7,700, but the school is currently offering a $1,000 scholarship. For more information, visit the academy’s website at www.themaleleadershipacademy.com.
D: Part of it is the bias I have of being educated in an all-male school. I went to mostly all-boys schools all my life, but particularly in high school, at Percell High School in Cincinnati. I then went to Xavier University in Cincinnati. There are two Xaviers – one in New Orleans and one in Cincinnati. My claim to fame there is that I took classes with (Republican House Speaker) John Boehner. We took a marketing class together. But that’s the bias -- I came from an all-boys environment in school and saw that I needed that discipline. I needed that structure. I needed someone who understood the uniqueness of how males learn and are taught. The other part was, I felt the freedom to explore the soft subjects – reading and music and typing – all those things that now serve me so well. My friends in the public schools, they weren’t touch typing. They weren’t getting into the literature. I had to, and I didn’t feel the need to put up a front because all the boys had to.
Q: How did you end up going to all-male schools?
D: My parents could not afford for me to go to a private school. So there were some people in the community and obviously the Catholic church, and they put up scholarships for us. So we were able to get that private education, particularly in the single-gender setting, that then afforded us the privilege of going on to college. High potential, low opportunity. We have a lot of high-potential young men today who have low opportunity to get the kind of structure that can help shape their minds to become leaders. I don’t believe that the exposure I got I would have gotten had I not had that kind of opportunity, and the potential would not have been called out of me. I think that’s where we fail in so many instances. Our boys have great, great, great potential. They don’t get the opportunity often to get in a setting that challenges them to really think about how great they can be.
Q: Who is your target market for this school?
D: Our target, first of all, are parents. We want parents to understand that they are the primary educators. We supplement and we come beside them and partner with them for what they want their young man to be. The type of scholar we see at the Male Leadership Academy are young men who have the ability and skills to handle a very rigorous, challenging curriculum. We won’t be handling everybody’s discipline problems. That’s not who we are. We’re not here to babysit. We’re here to challenge minds and the greatness that is in young men. It is for those boys whose parents want them to excel, or at least be given an opportunity to have an environment whereby they are challenged to be the best that they can be. Because of who we are, we’re probably going to have mostly black young men, and that’s ok…We have what I call a culture now of accepting failure in our young black men. It’s gone beyond a crisis at this stage. A crisis is something that, when you have it, you act upon it, you do something about it and you solve the crisis. But when you don’t act on the crisis, it becomes a condition, and after it becomes a condition for so long, it’s just a part of your culture. That culture can only be turned around when we begin at an early age. That’s why we’re focusing on kindergarten through third grade, because we’ve got to create a new cultural mindset – a mindset that says to them, “Why not start thinking about owning that ball club instead of just playing? Why not start thinking about the growing and expanding cyber security industry versus just finding a new app or new game to play and absorb all their time?” So we want to be able to challenge these young men to think and dream about changing the world.
Q: Will the academy offer full scholarships to high-potential boys whose parents can’t afford private school?
D: Probably not. We believe this is an investment, and parents will need to invest something in their sons’ education, not only financially but an investment of time. There is a big commitment of time that parents are going to have to make if they want to be a part of our family. They are going to have to read with their sons, they are going to have to be involved in the school and volunteer at some point if they are going to be involved in our family. That’s our culture of expectation. We will work with parents, but that parent has to invest something. Unfortunately, we can’t serve everybody…We are working very diligently every day to secure business and faith-based partners who want to participate in providing scholarships and want to participate in helping to invest in our future. When you have a national problem like we have with boys, it takes much more than a single entity such as us to do something about it. You’ve got to have partners who invest in solving the problem. That’s why we have been asking businesses and others who feel the same sense of urgency to participate in this. We’ve been getting very good and positive feedback. The interest level is growing every day, so we feel good about the future.
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