The founding of Project Forward Leap
The year was 1986 and the occasion was the Academic Achievements Award program honoring almost two hundred students of J. B McCaskey High School for individual accomplishments and participation in extracurricular activities.
Among those receiving one or more of the scores of acknowledgements were the Watchdog’s daughter, Jennifer Field (Hart) and many of her friends. What was stunning to the observer was that from a school that was about forty percent African American, that group only received two honors: African American history and gospel singing.
The one bright star that year, although not part of the evening, was the president of the graduation class was African American Michele White, whose father was a physician who for decades served the needs of the families in the Seventh Ward of Lancaster. Michele and Jennifer were close friends.
On a weekend morning soon thereafter, Field discussed the lack of minority academic achievements with Melvin R. Allen, LLD, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Millersville University, an African American, a product of a Philadelphia inner city community, and one who had worked with the Head Start Program sponsored by the federal government.
Within hours, the outline was formulated for a program that would enlist youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds into an overnight academic camp program to run five weeks each summer for attendees from seventh through ninth grades. It was to be held on the Millersville College (later University) campus, feature a rigourous academic program, and taught primarily by college instructors and professors.
The goal was to interest and prepare youngsters, presumably mostly black, for a successful high school career and then entrance into college or university.
The Watchdog agreed to initially fund the program and before the morning was over, Project Forward Leap had been formed. (Within days Associate Professor Leon Miller, of blessed memory, joined Allen in planning for the new program.)
The program grew to about 200 youngsters annually from several South East Pennsylvania communities and located on three college campuses. Although there were some changes over the years, for example public school teachers came to be substituted for college faculty and a tutorial program was established to extend assistance for the youngsters through high school, the basic concepts were preserved.
Approximately 2000 students have benefited from the program and an estimated 90% have graduated from high school and gone on to further education.
Allen remains as President and CEO. For the past fifteen years, Mrs. Ruth Williams, a former head mistress at a private school, has served as a very able and devoted Chair and she and her husband Morris have been the foremost benefactors of the program.
One can read about Project Forward Leap at http://www.projectforwardleap.com/.
It took but three hours to launch Project Forward Leap. Where there is a strong desire, knowledge, ability, leadership and funding, it doesn’t take long to launch an initiative.