For more than 20 years, Black United Youth of Cobb Inc. has provided mentorship to youth in Cobb and surrounding counties.
The 19th annual Scholarship Prayer Breakfast will once again raise money for the Willie E. Hill and Winston Strickland Memorial Scholarship funds.
Since 1994, the prayer breakfast has raised more than $300,000 in scholarship money. Last year, attendance at the breakfast reached 400 people, but the organization hopes to attract 500 this year.
Past keynote speakers at the event include Kennesaw State University President Daniel Papp, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, former Mayor of Atlanta Shirley Franklin and State Rep. David Wilkerson.
In 1991, three men — James Fisher, Don Johnson and Winston Strickland — had a vision to establish a nonprofit that would make a difference in the lives of the youth in Cobb County. The organization was first named The Black Men of America-Cobb, until it became BUY-COBB in 1994.
The organization was started after a conversation about young, intelligent men going to jail who ought to be doing something better with their lives, Fisher said.
The program was started with seven young men from Wheeler High School in Marietta.
During the initial classes, the emphasis was on reoccurring lessons by a motivational speaker who taught the teenagers how to have a presence in a room, Fisher said.
Fisher continues to serve as president of The Leadership Academy, the organization’s signature program for middle- and high-school students, which quickly expanded to include young women.
A volunteer effort
The Leadership Academy highlights academic leaders, which Fisher said includes BUY-COBB collaborating with area universities to teach the characteristics local colleges are looking for in students.
One Saturday each month, 60 to 70 students meet at Southern Polytechnic State University to sit through a four-hour program on how to prepare for college, as well as learning real-life skills.
The programs rely heavily on alumni of BUY-COBB voluntarily returning to give instructions. After two decades of classes, the BUY-COBB members stretch into the business, legal, medical and education fields.
“They have great stories to tell and lots of information to provide,” Fisher said. “People who are doing extraordinary things in special places.”
Those skills include organization, business planning, goal setting, standardized-testing tips and college selection.
“We have people come in to teach them all about economics,” Fisher said, including statistics about the life of millionaires, from the car they drive to the number of hours they work.
There are even lessons on safety and health issues, such as how to eat a diet that promotes a high level of thinking and performance. This is also a self-rating system to monitor if a student is being active enough and getting the right amount of rest.
Classes also cover integrity, social skills and etiquette, such as how to dress for an interview or how to behave in a nice restaurant.
Fisher said he wants to strengthen the program with even more involvement from past graduates of The Leadership Academy, including a possible reunion at next year’s prayer breakfast.
Cobb’s future leaders
The theme for the 19th annual Scholarship Prayer Breakfast is “Passing The Torch of Leadership.”
Many of the high school seniors who are earning scholarships this year can identify their weaknesses to be improved, confidently present their strengths and express their hunger for success.
Tori Franklin, 17, is graduating from Sprayberry High School in northeast Cobb this spring. She started classes at The Leadership Academy as a sophomore based on a suggestion from a family friend.
Franklin described her younger self as an awkward girl, keeping mostly to herself. After attending the BUY-COBB program, Franklin said she is now much more outgoing, able to think on her feet and “get to know people on the spot.”
“At first I was really shy,” Franklin said. “But eventually I broke out of that.”
The commitment required as part of The Leadership Academy, with mandatory attendance and volunteering for community projects, might be too much for some students.
“If you don’t go, then it is kind of hurting yourself,” said Franklin, who highlighted speeches by doctors, political activists and radio personalities.
Franklin said the program allowed her to go more in-depth than what she was already learning at school, such as how to file taxes and apply for scholarships.
“There is always time for fun and to goof off, but there is only so much time to learn things that will help you later in life,” Franklin said.
After taking several honors and medical classes, Franklin is on a pathway to Georgia State University in the women’s studies program. Franklin will then apply for the nursing program.
Ein Green,18, a senior at Walton High School in northeast Cobb, joined The Leadership Academy his freshman year following encouragement from fellow members at Zion Baptist Church.
Green, who has spent years in student government and is this year’s student-body president at Walton, said his supporters knew the program would pique his interest.
“They knew I had an interest as a leader,” Green said.
Green said The Leadership Academy prepared him for life past high school graduation and gave him an edge over fellow students.
“It showed how important it is to make sure you have a good credit score and balancing a budget,” said Green, who plans to major in finance at the University of Florida.
Once he is a successful businessman, Green said he plans to return to BUY-COBB and share his knowledge, like the volunteers who donated their time on Saturdays did for him.
“I feel like they actually care about our futures and us learning how to be better members of our society,” Green said.
IF YOU GO ...
- WHAT: BUY-COBB’s 19th annual Scholarship Prayer Breakfast
- WHERE: Cobb Galleria Centre
- WHEN: April 12 at 8 a.m.
- TICKETS: $40 per person or $400 per table. To buy tickets or make donations, visit http://www.buycobbinc.org/