Written by: Blaqkharma

I originally went to Miles College in Fairfield,  Alabama ( literally a step outside of Birmingham) expecting to only cover a Guilty Penmanship performance at the historically black college. Within ten minutes after  being there, I knew that I was in for a truly holy experience. We were there for an Upward Bound program. The whole night was about sharing with some younger creative geniuses. I left inspired.

After greeting everyone and scoping out the HBCU, I began to ask questions. The students were  so inviting. Their southern hospitality made me feel at ease. I soon began to see why there was such a great sense of family. I had the honor of interviewing the coordinators of this program. 3 women, all of which are the closest of kin. They operated like a family unit, making sure that all the students and  guest felt comfortable, and the stage was a safe place to  liberate your artistic side.

Dr. Ellis

How long has this program been going on?

This is actually a pilot program. It’s been here since  the 60’s. It is one of the first. It was created by the Johnson Administration  as an attack on the war on poverty. Subsequently, we have been funded every year. This program is more than 45 years old. We have literally helped thousands of students to go to college.

What is the main focus of this program?

We help students in three ways. The goal  is to help  them academically, socially, and culturally.  Tonight’s show would be more of a cultural component. It’s the socialization process of it as well. The students are learning how to get along and respect each other  as well as integrate with each other.  Earlier today, they were in class.  Academic, social, and cultural. They should be prepared to go to college when they leave here, and succeed, and graduate and go on and be productive.

What requirements does a student have to meet in order to be eligible for the program?

The program is funded by the US Department of Education.  They set the specific guidelines. The program is from grades 9 to 12. You must come from a lower income family and you must be a first generation college student. That simply means that neither of your parents finished a four year program. The complete guidelines are on the application. We go through an interview process one on one with the students and the parents. I am very selective. I look at their maturity level to see if they can function on a campus without parental supervision. And that is just he beginning…

What is the success rate of this program?

We have a 95 percent success ratio. Our goal is 85 percent. In the past few years we have had a 95 to 98 percent success rate. they go to college. This program works. They go on to continue to do well. We have an active alumni and an active parental group. We can’t do this alone. We need that parental support. I strongly encourage the parents to get involved. It really really works.

courtney Cook (left) Ivanna Ellis(right)

It’s such a big responsibility being a host How did you end up hosting this show tonight?

courtney: Well,  Ivanna and I were the only seniors left who knew how to properly do this night from the years that we’ve done this show before. We were really the only senior who were left that still knew how to produce it and make sure that everything is good with backstage and the audience.

Ivanna: I’m coming in as an residential adviser (RA) this summer to work with the Upward Bound Program. I had to spearhead and event. I chose poetry.

Both of you ladies took the stage tonight, Were you ladies performers before you got involved with Upward Bound?

courtney: I would definitely say that I was more of a writer before Upward bound. Upward Bound is kinda like my birthplace as far as performing goes. this was the first place that I actually ventured off and performed on a stage and do production. This was my first platform for performing.

Ivanna: I’ve been writing since I was little. Upward bound gave me a platform to be heard and to exercise  my talent. I’ve seen myself get better and better as a writer. During my freshmen and Sophomore year, It was hard for me to recite my poetry from memory. By the time my Junior and Senior year came along, I was on it.

From the beginning to the end, What have you guys taken with you from this program?

Ivanna: Upward Bound is a way of life. Dr. Ellis is my mother. I literally grew up in the program. When I got into high school, I joined the program. It’s helped me so much academically and i’ve gain so many valuable friendships.

Courtney: Life skills, how to interact with people. You have 70 different personalities that are confined to a small, tight-knit community. We have to learn to get along and deal with each other. I’ve taken so much from this program. Upward bound helped me deal with the stresses of working  my first job ever.

Ivanna: I wouldn’t have been able to get upon that stage if it wasn’t for Upward Bound. I used to get so nervous. Now I love engaging with my audience. the program has helped me a lot with my confidence.

What colleges will you ladies be attending?

Ivanna: I am a sophomore at the University of Alabama (Birmingham, AL)

Courtney: I will be attending Rhodes college (Memphis, TN) In the fall.

Isis Ellis

How are you affiliated with the Upward Bound Program at Miles college?

I am the Activity coordinator. It’s my job to make sure that the summer program runs smoothly. My mother, Dr. Ellis has been there since 1994. I kinda grew up on campus. I volunteered a lot in middle school and high school because I understood the dynamics of the program and I appreciate what it is doing for our community.

Have you actually gone through the program yourself or did you just volunteer?

I actually was in the program between the 9th and 12th grade. from 1999 to 2002.

With all the years that this program has been going on, how have you seen it change?

the most obvious change is the actual students. Even when I was little, before I entered to program, I would always interact with the students. Even then, a teenager in 1996 is so different from a teenager in 2011. I’ve seen how youth changes over the generations. That’s the most obvious change. the program itself has pretty much stayed the same. It’s gotten better over the years. We stick to our number one goal which is getting students who would normally pursue a post secondary education to pursue it.

Art is me. I need it to breathe. Whenever I can surround myself with free artistry and creativity, I treat it like church. I feel lifted, calm, and refreshed. At the end of the night, all I could do is smile and say amen. Watching and listening to the live creativity happening on the lyrical pulpit … These young and fresh creative artists paid homage to the  late Gil Scott Heron.

Gil Scott Heron