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Black students find support through Catholic program

By LISA SCHULTE
The Catholic Voice

Erin Dailey is one of five black students who attend Duchesne Academy in Omaha.

Being a minority in the all-girls Catholic school can be challenging at times, she said. That's why she got involved in the Rise and Shine Program offered through the archdiocese's Office of Black Catholic Ministry.

The support Dailey receives from the program, aimed at black students in Catholic high schools, has helped her deal with the occasional remark or negative reaction she gets just because she is black.

'It's good to have people who you can connect with and if something is going wrong at your school, you can have the backing of an organization," the 17-year-old said.

The Rise and Shine Program was founded in 2001 by Karen Tibbs-Nnawulezi to encourage black students to apply to Catholic high schools, to help with the retention of them in Catholic high schools and to encourage parent involvement by inviting them into the Catholic community.

'Catholic communities are really closed and most African American students are not Catholic, so they do not meet other parents in the parish and do not know the faculty and teachers," Tibbs-Nnawulezi said.

The program was also designed to give black students in Catholic high schools the opportunity to share their common stories with each other, and to grow as leaders in their school, community and family, she said.

One of the keys to the success of the program is parent involvement, she said. Parents and students work together to raise money for scholarships and special trips, such as the annual college tour, as well as participate in volunteer activities and luncheons. The Rise and Shine Program hosts a fall retreat for new Catholic high school students and their parents and another one for the students in the spring. Tutoring and college preparation are also offered.

'These kids are in a school system where there's no black counselors, no black teachers and no black community liaison, so sometimes these kids don't know about the black things that are going on in the black community," Tibbs-Nnawulezi said.

Barbara Essex, Dailey's mother and one of about six parents involved in Rise and Shine, said she enjoys being able to interact with her daughter in a special way through the program and hopes more parents will get involved.

Programs like Rise and Shine are needed in Catholic schools, said A'Jamal Byndon, senior director for social policy at Catholic Charities. He said that during his 23 years at Catholic Charities, he has heard many stories of racism in the schools, but with very little being done about it by school officials.

'The Catholic school system is not integrated. And why is that? The reason is that sometimes people in institutions and individuals don't reach out to people who are different from them," he said. 'I really think that if you want to make an institution much better, you're going to have to go out of your way to make the people who are sometimes treated as strangers as one of us. For many African American students in Catholic schools, it's like that for them."

Brittanee Nelson, a junior at Mercy High School in Omaha, said she encounters racism at school every once in a while, but claimed that most of the time people do it without even noticing it.

'Sometimes it's an issue, but most of the time it's not. People make dumb comments and stuff like that, but not all the time," she said.

Because racial incidents do happen, though, Nelson said she encourages parents to talk with their children about racism.

'Maybe their kids go to those schools and their kids say these thing or act this way," she said. 'Parents just need to talk to their kids about how they treat minority students and if they even treat them differently."

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