Drive-Through Celebration Surprises Students Who Missed Signing Day at Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy

Zion reacts Thursday when he learns he and his classmates at Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy are being surprised with the essentials for their new college lives.

When 100 percent of your graduating class is admitted to college, senior signing day is one of the most momentous celebrations of the year. For students at the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy (BOMLA), that day in May never came due to COVID-19.

Thursday, these outstanding students drove through campus simply to return books and laptops. But the parade of cars ended with a big surprise: graduating seniors were all gifted new computers, luggage, and other college essentials by a variety of supporters.

The Leadership Academy, an all-male magnet school in the Dallas Independent School District, has been closing the opportunity gap for students since its inception in 2011. This year, its 30 graduates are heading to universities including Morehouse College, USC, and the University of Houston.

The JCPenney Communities Foundation has been partnering with BOMLA since 2017.

“It is proof of our words through action,” says Justin Shields, Philanthropy Senior Specialist at JCPenney. “To play a part in making the young men understand that their dreams can become their realities validates the work we do as a company.”

The JCPenney partnership has included opportunities to work with, and learn directly from, JCPenney’s business resource teams. Students have spent a day on the JCPenney Home Office campus for leadership and business lessons, and speak with JCP leaders who visit the school to teach and coach them about careers and opportunities.

Patrice Withers-Stephens has been part of BOMLA’s Career Day for the last two years. “As one who is a first-generation college student, I am personally invested in supporting these future leaders,” says Withers-Stephens, Philanthropy Program Lead at JCPenney. “It’s truly an honor to see these young men matriculate to do great things.”

JCPenney also gives financial support as part of Friends of BOMLA, with its most recent contribution in 2019 helping support this year’s graduating class. On Thursday, students were surprised with $50 JCPenney gift cards as part of the 2019 grant.

The JCPenney Communities Foundation is committed to helping underserved students build confidence and stay engaged in school, attend college, and prepare for a rewarding career. A partnership with BOMLA was a natural fit.

At the Academy, 83 percent of students are economically disadvantaged and 97 percent are students of color. Classroom sizes are small, with a student-teacher ratio of 11-1, and students study everything from Latin to Robotics, with the ultimate goal of attending college.

“I don’t think people really understand: we are changing lives,” explains L.D. Carter, Interim Executive Director of Friends of BOMLA. “And because we’re changing lives, through what JCPenney supports, we’re changing the world ultimately.”

“Believe. Achieve. Succeed” is the school’s motto. This year’s improvised signing day, turned pep rally and car parade, is one more unforgettable memory for this class of 2020.