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Pine Forge Academy Graduate On National Championship All-Star Team

Oakwood University’s Honda All Stars Win Championship!

Pictured (standing, l-r) are David Knight, vice president of Student Services, Caleb Briggs, Joshua Nwaoho, Oliva Campbell, Mrs. Andrienne Matthews, assistant VP for Student Services.Seated (l-r) are Dr. Rennae Elliot, chairman of the Department of Communication, and Sesly Huerfano.

After 24 amazing rounds of play during the 2017 Honda Campus All-Star Challenge Championship in Torrance, California, the scholars from Oakwood University have emerged as National Champions. This is their third national title after consecutive wins in 2008 and 2009. Led by high scorer Sesly Huerfano (seated, right), the Ambassadors swept through the Championship series without a single loss! Bowie State University acquitted themselves capably as well, marking their first appearance in the Finals. Both teams exemplified the spirit of good sportspersonship and fair play.

The Honda Campus All-Star Challenge (HCASC) was established in 1989 to showcase the academic excellence of HBCU students, in which over 120,000 students have participated. HCASC is a great game and much more: players widen their scope of knowledge, learn teamwork, sportsmanship, travel and represent their schools, become friends with school officials, including presidents, bond with their fellow competitors and develop relationships that make them, as the HCASC motto says, “Friends for Life.” These friends form a vast network of support during their school days and beyond.

Honda supports HBCUs because of their unique and critical role in higher education, helping millions of students achieve their dreams. More than $8 million in grants from Honda have provided support for scholarships, facility upgrades, and other investments to improve the student experience. Because of this win, Oakwood University will receive $75,000.

The Oakwood family welcomed the team back to campus at a rally on the lawn of the Eva B. Dykes Library on Wednesday afternoon.

Joshua, Caleb, Olivia and Sesly with the 2017 Honda Campus All-Star Challenge Championship Trophy. Oakwood University will also receive a $75,000 grant for this win.

Olivia Campbell, pictured above, is a graduate of Pine Forge Academy, Class of 2013, and a proud member of the Oakwood University National Championship team.

A Hidden Gem: Pine Forge Academy Sends 98 Percent of Its Students to College, Creates Leaders in Service to Black People

Pine Forge Academy
Pine Forge Academy

Excellence in education — in Black education — is in great abundance at Pine Forge Academy. At a time when the African-American community expresses its concern about the education of its children and their future development, there is a model of success in a private boarding school in Pennsylvania. And this success story has been in operation for decades, producing Black leaders and change agents in the community.

Pine Forge Academy is a participant in Atlanta Black Star’s Better School Better World Challenge, a campaign in which anyone including Black-owned businesses challenge each other to donate to Black educational institutions that are incubators and training grounds for the leaders of the future.  The campaign is an initiative of the Black Star Economic Alliance (BSEA).

Founded in the 1940s by a group of preachers, Pine Forge Academy is located on 575 acres of land near Pottstown, Pennsylvania, on what was once an Underground Railroad depot.  First known as the Pine Forge Institute, the school began with a class of 90 pioneer students, and was envisioned as a place where Black students could attend high school without all of the racial issues found in the South. The co-educational Seventh-day Adventist boarding school “is committed to providing a Christ-centered curriculum in a safe, caring environment, to prepare students spiritually, intellectually, physically, and socially for service to God and man,” and it boasts a 98 percent college attendance rate.

“We’re 70 years in, so that in and of itself speaks volumes on our historical significance. We’re still going,” Kris Fielder, acting principal of Pine Forge Academy, told Atlanta Black Star. “It was started to provide a haven for Black kids from the South and from various places in 1946. I think we’re still significant for the Black community, because not only do we offer academics, but we offer that spiritual element that is critical in an environment that lends itself to good development for our young people,” he added.

Fielder said the school offers a holistic approach, providing a spiritual and academic environment that children need in a challenging environment.

Pine Forge Academy's first student body
Pine Forge Academy’s first student body

Pine Forge Academy is a unique place.

“We’re like a hidden gem, and many people don’t even realize we exist,” Dr. Leon Thomas, president of the National Pine Forge Academy Alumni Association told Atlanta Black Star.  “I consider Pine Forge as a junior HBCU,” he said.

“The impact is great. We just celebrated 70 years of existence. We had our 70th year anniversary celebration in September. And what Pine Forge Academy has done since the doors opened in September of 1946, since then we’ve made basically great strides. During that time, if you recall, the turn of the century around the 1900s there were over 100 Black boarding academies.  But now we have four,” Dr. Thomas noted.

Members of the class of 1966 celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pine Forge Academy with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and former First Lady of Virginia. She is pictured here with Pine Forge alum Rocky Twyman. (Pine Forge Academy)
Members of the class of 1966 celebrate the 70th anniversary of Pine Forge Academy with Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and former first lady of Virginia. She is pictured here (right) with Pine Forge alum Rocky Twyman (left). (Pine Forge Academy)

During this special year for this important educational institution, the 50th reunion class at Pine Forge Academy honored President Lyndon B. Johnson for his education reform initiative known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Enacted in 1966, the initiative allowed for the federal government to play a more active role in public education on the state and local level.  For Pine Forge alumni, ESEA — which was part of Johnson’s War on Poverty — paved the way and opened doors that previously had been shut for them.  Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, the oldest daughter of President Johnson, was invited to Pine Forge alumni weekend, where the community thanked her for her father’s legacy.

“There are only four Black boarding academies in North America. What those schools do: Number one it has what I call qualities that you can’t walk on campus and see. They’re intangibles. We create leaders. We create Black men and women who believe in themselves. We have a strong commitment to education, and currently 98 percent of the graduates from Pine Forge go on to college. That’s not over the past few years, but over a period of time,” Thomas said.  “We create Black leaders who are not afraid to stand up.  When people leave Pine Forge Academy they can compete on every level.  We don’t have the greatest buildings or the greatest facilities, but when you talk to Pine Forge alumni, you see a spirit light up in them, because there are things you get there that you can’t get everywhere else. It’s the camaraderie and wanting each student to succeed. We have faculty members who could work anywhere else and make more money but they work at Pine Forge Academy to help them succeed and grow.”

Pine Forge Academy Day 2016 from AEC Media Center on Vimeo.

Principal Fielder reflected on the specific benefits of the private boarding school experience on young Black people.

“One of the good things about the boarding experience is they get away from home and learn how to do things on their own. It is a good preparation for college. Students have to learn how to iron, wash clothes. This is a home away from home,” he said.  “We really stress the spiritual relationship with Christ because we are a religious institution.  We can really proclaim our faith without any inhibitions because we are not public — we are a private school. The spiritual part is important, and they need to learn discipline. When they go home the family members say they really see a change in their child.”

Pine Forge Academy
Pine Forge Academy

Thomas, who was also a dean and coach at Pine Forge Academy, reflected on some of the many successful alumni of the institution, including actor Clifton Davis; former Pennsylvania Mayor John Street and his brother, former Pennsylvania State Senator Milton Street; and Barry Black, chaplain of the U.S. Senate.  Black, Thomas noted, often speaks of how he was not necessarily the best in school academically, but was able to succeed through the intangibles cultivated at Pine Forge, including how to relate and get along with others.

“I’m Doctor Leon Thomas, but when I was in school I wasn’t the greatest academic person in school.  They instilled in me that I could,” Dr. Thomas said of the impact the Black boarding school had on his life. “When I left Pine Forge and went to other schools, no matter where anybody else came from, I could compete. We have a history of motivation and helping the Black student have an internal motivation to succeed. What makes Pine Forge great is that it is on the grounds of an iron mill that used to house the Underground Railroad. We instill that pride in students,” Thomas said.

“I can say I wasn’t just a student, but I also taught there for nine years,” he noted.  “I have seen students come in, and when they leave it’s almost like they go through a metamorphosis. It’s like a cocoon — they come in as raw students, but when they leave the cocoon they leave like butterflies. We equip them with the ability to fly. I have parents come to us and say: ‘We don’t know what you’ve done for them.’ It is amazing how they have grown from a child to a young adult. They were shy and introverts and now they speak,” Thomas added.

This school with a rich tradition has plans to expand and grow.

“Pine Forge Academy is 70 years strong but it is mostly due to the Adventist community. In order to make it persevere for more than 70 years we need to do more and look beyond that small community, and we are starting to branch out to other businesses to allow it to grow the school,” Dinah Jordan, Development Officer and Special Projects Manager at Pine Forge Academy, told Atlanta Black Star.  “We are reaching out but also reaching back.  The school used to do a lot of farming and had an apple orchard. The students had a work program where they worked in the community and their payments went to their school tuition bill, and that was a big part of the school’s history. We received a grant from the USDA to redevelop our farm program, and through the EITC and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit, we will now be able to engage in business through tax credits,” she noted.

Pine Forge Academy's Thomas Rutter Manor House (left) and a tunnel from the Underground Railroad on campus (right). (Pine Forge Academy)
Pine Forge Academy’s Thomas Rutter Manor House (left) and a tunnel from the Underground Railroad on campus (right). (Pine Forge Academy)

“Our tuition is $20,000 and that is significant for Black families,” Jordan said, noting that “the population we serve are usually single family households from the New Jersey and Delaware-Maryland-Virginia areas. That tuition is a burden, and we would like to support our families with that tuition, so having a stronger development and fundraising effort will help us do that,” she said, announcing a six-month fundraising initiative to refurbish and restore the infrastructure of the school, which hasn’t been tended to in years.

“I think one of the challenges — there are so few left — is economics,” Fielder said. “It is a challenge just for Black families to afford a school like ours. Although we don’t cost as much as other schools, it is a challenge for our constituents,” he noted.

Interim Vice Principal Jaymie Pottinger calls Pine Forge “a game changer.“

“Students have come to Pine Forge Academy and seen their economic status change because of their capacity to learn and serve the wider world,” Pottinger told Atlanta Black Star.  “I have seen students’ lives change, students who were failing in other environments, but because of Pine Forge Academy’s investments” they were able to succeed,” he noted.

Pottinger recalled “a student who couldn’t make a 1.5 GPA graduated with 3.0, and his chances were next to none.  That sense of pride, that sense of purpose, and I don’t have to subject myself to the stereotype of Black males in this country. I bucked the system and was forced to be placed in a jacket I wasn’t supposed to be in. By changing the students’ mindset and feeling as if they are not inferior is a milestone reached,” he added.  “Just being nestled in a community outside of New York was enough to let him know who he was and there were greater things ahead if he was able to accept what was ahead of him.”

“Pine Forge is community focused. We preach to students that what you gain and learn is not just to keep to ourselves but to share with the community,” Thomas offered. “Black professionals haven’t learned to share what we have learned to those who come after us.  That’s why we have such a strong alumni presence.  Wherever you go, there is usually a Pine Forge person in every state in the U.S.  Most states have Pine Forge alumni.  We have parents who send their children from all over the country and even internationally for what we have done for students in the past.

“Pine Forge is what I consider a hidden gem in the Black community. What Pine Forge has done for the Black community needs to be put out on a larger scale so that people know,” Thomas said.

Source: http://atlantablackstar.com/2016/10/13/a-hidden-gem-pine-forge-academy-sends-98-percent-of-its-students-to-college-creates-leaders-in-service-to-black-people/

Pine Forge Academy’s Class of 1966 Looks Back with Pride


By Matthew Nojiri


Barry Black remembers the pure awe of seeing the night sky from Pine Forge Academy for the first time. Five decades later, that feeling endures. “Coming out of the inner city of Baltimore, this was Shangri-La,” he said. “The rural beauty of this place, the mountains, the river Manatawny, the stars in the rural sky with no streetlights, it was like watching fireworks. “This was a refuge.”

Black and 16 other members of the Pine Forge Academy class of 1966 returned Saturday to the Seventh-day Adventist school in Douglass Township for their 50th anniversary. They participated in graduation ceremonies, attended a luncheon and celebrated their accomplishments.
Most of all, they came to catch up.

“There are certain anniversaries that are special,” said Bryan Akil Marshall, class president now living in Cleveland. “Your first, your fifth, 10th anniversaries are special. But 50? This is everything. Fifty is the bomb.”
As children of the civil rights movement, the class of 1966 lived through the darkness of the Jim Crow era, while celebrating the possibilities of political action and change that followed. The class went on to write books, earn doctorates, serve as presidential appointees and aides to congressional representatives.

They said 1966 was an important time in history and a great time to come through the academy.
“Things were really opening up,” said Rockefeller Twyman of Rockville, Md. “We benefited from the programs of President (Lyndon) Johnson’s Great Society. We had all these anti-poverty programs, scholarships, jobs.”
Dr. Wendell Cheatham agreed, saying the class of 1966 saw the world change. “We came along during the transition from Jim Crow laws,” said Cheatham of Howard County, Md. “I remember traveling with my dad. We had to plan days in advance where we would plan to stay the night because of the inability to stay in open housing. If you tell that to the children today, they don’t believe you or believe you’re telling lies.”

Edna Thomas of Tampa, Fla., was the coordinator for the reunion. She said Pine Forge Academy remains an important place for the next generation of students. “It shows the magnificence of the school,” said Thomas, who served as a congressional aide for 19 years. “To me this place is life. This is a ball. It doesn’t feel like 50 years, and we don’t look like it’s been 50, either.”

Rodney and Elizabeth Thomas were high school sweethearts back in 1966. The couple parted ways during college, but reconnected during an alumni event a few years ago. In December they wed and are in the process of moving in together in Atlanta. “I can’t believe we’re here,” Rodney Thomas said. “What a beautiful blessing.”
Since 2003, Black has served as the chaplain for the U.S. Senate, convening every session with an invocation. He said he’s kept up with his classmates, reading about their accomplishments as they made marks on the world.
“Pine Forge laid the foundation for whatever success I had, and I owe a great deal of gratitude,” he said.
Fifty years later, the school is still preparing young people for life.
“You get that same feeling of exhilaration every time you come back,” he said.
Contact Matthew Nojiri: 610-371-5062 or mnojiri@readingeagle.com.

Pine Forge Academy Continues to Change with the Times


By Gabbie O’Grady

DOUGLASS TOWNSHIP, PA. – Over seven decades, Pine Forge Academy’s mission has grown and evolved, changing with the times to prepare students for college and beyond.

Indeed, times have changed for the academy, a private Seventh-day Adventist school in rural Pine Forge, Douglass Township. The school, which opened in 1946 on land once owned by Thomas Rutter, an abolitionist and iron miller, turns 70 this year.

“Our academy has evolved from being an institute to provide vocational and academic training to students pre-civil rights movement,” said Nicole Hughes, school principal.

“The focus then was students being able to get equal education access.”

Many classes involved a variety of focuses, including college preparation.

“We had a huge college-prep focus that had a lot to do with what was going on in the nation at that time,” she said. “We were more focused on the civil rights movement.”

The focus now has shifted for students to accomplish more than equality.

“Now in the 21st century, we’ve moved to a place where we’re focused on creating a curriculum where students focus to be the best and first in class at universities and to be innovators and entrepreneurs,” Hughes said. “The concentration isn’t just about college anymore. It’s also about after college.”

Students are encouraged to improve a community during their careers by creating jobs, she added.

The academy provides skills for students to do this in their classes and by bringing in speakers who are entrepreneurs and leaders in their fields.

“You should be able to lead with a Pine Forge education, go to college and go back to change your community in a way that is impactful and immediate,” Hughes said.

Vocational skills also have evolved at the academy over the years.

“Vocational training looked like carpentry or cosmetology 30 or 40 years ago,” Hughes said. “In this age, 21st century vocational skills are very different. They include those things, but they are also entrepreneurial. They could be marketing-based or social media based.”

Though times have changed, the original values Pine Forge was built on remain.

The school is rich in history, operating on land that in the days of slavery was a terminal for the Underground Railroad.

“This can still be a form of civil rights in today’s world, actually,” Hughes said of the school and its focus. “There is still a large income gap for people of color to not of color.”

Contact Gabbie O’Grady: 610-371-5021 or gogrady@readingeagle.com.