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Educator to Tackle Challenges Facing Minority BoysD.C.’s First All-Male School to Be Led by Dr. Ben Williams

The concept of an all-male public school has received mixed reviews across the U.S.

But given the overwhelming challenges facing Black youth nationwide who routinely suffer from higher dropout rates, lower test scores and grade point averages and an overabundance of behavioral problems, many educators have sought to help these boys by providing single-gender schools where their needs can be specifically addressed.

D.C. Public Schools, joining a growing number of other U.S. school systems, will open its first college-preparatory school as part of a $20 million city program, “Empowering Males of Color” with the goal of increasing opportunities for young minority men. The school, which will be named by members of the community, will be led by Dr. Ben Williams, the recipient of three degrees from the University of Virginia, including a doctorate. His dissertation focused on Black students and their underrepresentation in Advanced Placement classes.

Williams, 36, understands the myriad of issues facing young Black males. Born in Las Vegas, he became a ward of the state after his mother, a prostitute and drug addict, gave up both he and his younger brother. The two moved from home to home, enduring multiple forms of abuse. Williams said he did his best to shield his brother from the pain as much as possible and remained adamant that they would not be separated.

Fortunately, both were adopted by a man in Seattle. With the help of coaches and teachers who recognized his intellectual abilities, education would become Williams’ goal and life’s calling. But it wasn’t easy for him he says, as he was often reluctant to trust others. But eventually, he overcame his fears. Since then he has committed his life to helping other young men make it and reach their fullest potential.

“I wanted to do for others what had been done for me and believed the best environment would be in an all-male school,” said Williams who most recently served as an associate principal at the School Without Walls at Francis-Stevens Education Campus in Northwest and who will lead a school for the first time in the fall.

“We’re going to shoot for the stars with our students,” he said. “And I believe that the stars were aligned in this opportunity. All the research I’ve done, the 10 years I’ve devoted to the topic of how to better educate minority students – all of that and my own personal story will serve me well as I work with young men from the District. I’m not saying ‘why me.” Instead I’ve chosen to say ‘why not me.’

Williams, who lives in Arlington, said he’s looking for a place in the District so he can fully experience life as a Washingtonian. But he lived here briefly during his youth with his father, who maintained a home in the District for over 20 years.

He said a key part of the daily curriculum will involve discussions on current events, conversations about being young men of color in the new millennium and discovering individual ways to become self-motivated, no matter what obstacles may be in their lives. In addition, the school, which will open its doors in the fall with a freshman class, adding one class each year until it’s comprised of freshmen through senior classes, will offer sports teams and other extracurricular activities and will have a dress code consisting of jackets and ties.

“I think my story will give me great validity in the eyes of my students. I used my own story as a way to push me forward – I never desired anyone’s pity. I walked the path that many young men, particularly young men of color are facing today,” he said.

Families can apply to the Empowering Males High School on the My School DC website. The deadline to apply to schools for grades 9-12 is Monday, Feb. 1. The deadline to apply to schools for grades PK3-8 is Tuesday, March 1.

Families can apply to the Empowering Males High School on the My School DC website. The deadline to apply to schools for grades 9-12 is Monday, Feb. 1. The deadline to apply to schools for grades PK3-8 is Tuesday, March 1.

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