Billie Holiday Project hosts college access luncheon

Baltimore's highest-achieving high school juniors joined Hopkins students, faculty, and staff for a discussion of pathways to higher education

High school juniors attend luncheon

Credit: Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts

At Baltimore's Polytechnic High School, Johns Hopkins senior Zach Byrd loved math. He enrolled in college with plans of becoming a mechanical engineer "because I wanted to make things to change the world and help people. I wanted to be Ironman," he said.

Then he had the opportunity to go to France and study film. He'll graduate in December with a degree in Film and Media Studies and an internship at the LA studio that produced the critically acclaimed films Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk.

During a recent luncheon with Baltimore's highest-achieving high school juniors and their guidance counselors, Byrd, a Baltimore Scholar, said his transition to college life may have contained a few bumps, but the important thing is that he overcame them, and they happen to everyone.

"Now I feel like I have an opportunity to change the world and make it a better place through entertainment," Byrd said. "It's important to know what you want to do, but also to be open-minded about how to get there."

Byrd was one of two student speakers at the inaugural Hopkins Pathway Program Juniors' Luncheon, held on a rainy May afternoon in the George Peabody Library. The top junior from every public high school in Baltimore, along with his or her guidance counselor, traveled to the historic venue to hear about life at Hopkins from faculty and students of color.

Sponsored by the Billie Holiday Project for Liberation Arts in partnership with Baltimore City Public Schools' Office of College and Career Readiness, the Hopkins Pathway Program allows Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students to visit local sites such as public schools and deliver lectures with high intellectual content. The program also enhances communication and coordination between BCPS school counselors and JHU admissions officers and provides college readiness programming to further the Billie Holiday Project's goal of fostering links between Hopkins and Baltimore's historic African-American communities.

The luncheon was designed to:

  • Introduce the young scholars to Hopkins as a viable college option
  • Share success stories about current Hopkins students from Baltimore
  • Introduce both the rigors and fun of college life
  • Open new pathways of access to the Hopkins community

Members of the Johns Hopkins administration were also on hand to provide admissions tips to the local high schoolers. "Take advantage of your essay," suggested David Phillips, vice provost for admissions and financial aid. "This is the only part of your application where we really, truly see you. Colleges are looking for individuals."

Junior Cori Grainger, who was featured in the award-winning 2017 documentary Step, said her experience at Hopkins taught her how to learn. She also discussed her internship at Intel and what it was like to find a social niche with the help of Hopkins' Delta sorority chapter.

"You won't always know exactly what you want do or where you will end up," said Grainger, who is also a Baltimore Scholar. "Opportunities reveal themselves. You just need to be prepared to accept them."

Shani Mott, a lecturer in the Center for Africana Studies, encouraged the juniors to think beyond what college can do for their careers, and to use it to grow as people. "It's about commitment to learning and to connecting one's learning to one's life. It's important to have a need to figure out something," she said. "Your best self triangulates different aspects of your life. You tap into your intellectual capabilities in terms of the classroom, and then translate that into the community."

Jazz by Peabody musicians followed the speakers, and the afternoon wrapped up with a talk about recent research into Billie Holiday by Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Lawrence Jackson and two of his students, PhD candidate Francisco Perez Marsilla and Bianca Martone, a graduating Hopkins senior.