Lately a great deal of our story headlines have included the troubling challenges that our Black youth face everyday in school and personal life. The upside to these challenges is the determination and hope of organizations that have provided resources to enable a pathway to a fulfilling education.
LINK Unlimited Scholars is celebrating 50 years of providing Chicago area high school students with the tools needed for academic success.
The organization was founded by John and Carolyn Parmer in the Bronzeville community working with St. Dorothy in 1966. Since its inception, LINK Unlimited Scholars have created opportunities for growth for more than 2,200 scholars.
One of the unique attributes of this program is the commitment to help academically talented students from low-economic house- holds meet their goals of achieving a high quality education through partnerships with private educational institutions.
President and CEO of LINK Unlimited Scholars, Dr. Rosalind Blasingame-Buford explains their unique process. “We serve specifically African-American youth, providing them with the resources need to access success. We enroll them when they’re in the 8th grade. The summer before Freshman year, they attend summer camp for six weeks so that they’re prepared to matriculate into a private high school. For many of our scholars this can be a culture shock.”
For some of their student scholars, the transition from a predominately Black community such as Austin or Englewood to a predominately White private school brings a different level of pressure.
“We make sure that they’re pre- pared for that economically as well as social and the cultural experience. Throughout their high school tenure, we provide them with the tools and relationships needed through and beyond college,” Dr. Blasingame-Buford said.
An application must be filled out by the parent or guardian in the student’s 8th grade to begin the process of being considered qualified for the LINK Unlimited Scholars. The average household income is about $32,000 per family and a form must be completed similar to a financial aid form. “We look at their test scores and grades. As we conduct student interviews, we gage whether they have academic ambition and intellectual curiosity. They don’t
have to come in the door polished or poised about to tackle the world but we look at that ‘it’ factor.”
Schools that have strong partner- ships with the organization include Francis Parker, DeLaSalle, Mt. Caramel and others. Dr. Blasingame-Buford says parents and students usually come with an idea of where they want to attend school. They measure this on how the scholar can interact with the schools, academically and geographically. “We know the rigor; we know the culture. Through those initial interactions, we may recommend a DelaSalle as a better fit for certain reasons and then leave it to the family.
Dr. Blasingame-Buford can relate to many of their scholar’s stories because she shared similar connections. Raised by a single working mom, she found herself relocating to Minneapolis from their hometown of Harvey, Illinois when she was 10.
“She took care of me and she invested in what I was doing. I went to the Boys and Girls Club after school— that was something that kept me safe. I also went to the YMCA where I joined the Black Achievers.” Although the love and support of her family wasn’t enough, she fell into the wrong group in high school— drinking and dodging school. After a short two-week stay in youth detention—it was a valuable lesson. As she entered her senior year in high school, her grades immediately improved and she was college bound.
She attended Payne College in Augusta, Georgia and later at Chicago State University where she discovered her passion for working with young people. Her initial goal was to pursue a career in the broadcast field, being offered an on-air gig at a radio station in Wyoming after graduation. A job offer to work with the Boys and Girls Club of Chicago to work full-time on staff was too good to pass up, where she served for five years. Her 13 years at B.U.I.L.D. working with both Black and Latino youth from disadvantaged communities prepared her for this next chapter serving as the President and CEO of LINK Unlimited Scholars.
Some of the goals of the organization as they enter their 50th year include partnering with the Chicago Public Schools to offer their model within the schools for a wider group of students seeking college bound opportunities, developing an 8-10 model to assist scholars transition from college to jobs in their career choice and building a strong mentor program among their scholar alumni.
LINK Unlimited Scholars alumni include Jonathan Swain (Owner-Kenwood Liquors/Cook County Board of Elections Commissioner), Kenard Gibbs (Sr. VP of BET), Julie Welborn (Archdiocese of Chicago) and Torrence D. Moore.