The University Record, February 4, 1998

Mackenzie High students get a taste of college life

'You stare at my shoes, never stare at my mind,' siad Gabrial Anderson, a junior at Detroit's Mackenzie High School, quoting her original poem during the reading session at 'Young Writers from the City,' East Quadrangle's 1998 MLK Symposium event. Students from Mackenzie came to the residence hall to interact with Residential College students and participate in writing and drama workshops. Photo by Bob Kalmbach

Mackenzie students wrote about a wide range of subjects, from racial conflict to relationships and music. Above, Marvin O'Neal, Mackenzie High junior, pays tribute to hip-hop in 'My First Love.' Photo by Bob Kalmbach

By Paula Saha

"Lord make me into a bird, a flower, so I can blossom," writes Gabrial Anderson. "You stare at my shoes, never stare at my mindŠEach time you smack my precious faceŠI will shout I can I can."

Anderson was one of 40 students from Mackenzie--a high school in inner-city Detroit made up of about 2,500 African-American students--who came to "Young Writers from the City," the Residential College's (RC) Jan. 23 event for the 1998 Martin Luther King Symposium.

Throughout the day, students took part in writing, drama and computer workshops. They finished with readings of their own work in the East Quad library.

"We wanted to look in a general way at writing for students who expressed an interest," said Barbra Morris, co-coordinator of the program with the RC's Suzanne James. "We used the resources of the RC--writing program, computers, drama--to give them an overview of what happens at the college level and make them feel confident that they could fit in."

RC students also took part, leading small groups of students and facilitating the workshops. A number of RC writers joined the poetry reading, interacting with the Mackenzie students.

"Just to be around other people and showcase talents--it actually helps you to free your mind," explained Mackenzie junior Jamar Whitfield. "It helps us get to relax, too. We do have a lot of pressure on us--this is a different experience and the people have a new attitude."

Students sat sprawled throughout the Benzinger library, cheering on their friends and fellow poets. Themes ranged from anger and love for the opposite sex to difficult home situations and attachment to music.

The mood was infectious, and as the session progressed, more and more students became caught up in the readings. "You all got me in the mood," interjected junior Tuere Hardy between readings. "I'm gonna do one off the top of my head!"

The forum provided a new experience for many of the Mackenzie students. "Trips of this magnitude are real important because they expose the inner city kids to the arts. Most kids don't get the chance to do anything like that," said Marvin O'Neal, Mackenzie High senior.

The students were invited as part of the Mackenzie High School-University of Michigan collaboration, a program that began 15 years ago when the then-principal of the school became concerned that no Mackenzie students were being admitted to the U-M.

At that time, Morris, a lecturer in the RC and for the English Composition Board (ECB) and George Cooper, lecturer in the ECB, began working with administrators, faculty and students to improve their writing program.

"We felt if the faculty got involved with developing a better program there, the chances of the students going on the higher education would greatly improve," Morris says.

Morris and Cooper helped conduct seminars in the teaching of writing and provided equipment, supplies, demonstrations, expert speakers and other things Mackenzie teachers felt would help them in their teaching.

"Especially in this time of attack on affirmative action," says Morris, "it is especially important the University demonstrate that there are many ways higher education can improve the instructional and motivational climate in the Detroit schools.

"We want the students to complete high school and go on to post-secondary education," he continues. "Naturally, we want some to go here [U-M], but mostly we want them to complete high school so they can see themselves as people on the way to good lives and good careers."

The trips to the U-M provide added incentive in that area. "It's cool to see how it is here. It's hard to make a choice when you've never seen college before," said Mackenzie senior Cedric Pearson.

Hardy agreed. "We should have more stuff like this--a lot of kids don't know they want to go to college 'til they go see one--sometimes it's too late--it's good to get this now, before we get sidetracked."