First African-American graduate of Governor’s Scholar talks about program


by WHAS11

Posted on July 24, 2013 at 6:29 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 24 at 8:40 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- “It was life changing,” Dr. Eliot Thompson, one of the first African-Americans to graduate from Governor’s Scholar, said.

He is now a Louisville pediatrician.

The program takes rising high school seniors who are in the top of in their class for academics and leadership.

For five weeks, the students live at Kentucky college campuses and have intense classroom learning and it can lead to scholarships.

“If you had a son that had basketball talent you wouldn't think twice about putting them on the AAU circuit. This is kind of like that,” Thompson said.

Thompson is thrilled to know that organizers of Governor's Scholars are now making a move to get more minorities in the program after realizing a lack of black students.

More: Survey finds strong support for public charter schools

“Being an African-American in America is a different situation and you don't always feel like you belong. Why am I here? Do I deserve to have this and for me that was so huge in my life,” Thompson said.

Thompson says it will take some convincing.

His father didn't give him an option to apply but Thompson knows that is not the case with many students.

“We have to make sure our African American community, our diverse population, is prepared so that it is not just a school thing that it’s definitely a community wide thing that has to happen,” Naomi Brahim, who worked with counselors at Jefferson County Public Schools, said.

Counselors are sometimes the first to alert students about Governor’s Scholars.

“We need to make sure that every kid has an opportunity to succeed, specifically our minorities especially our diverse population,” Brahim said.

She says the achievement gap is still very real between white students and some minority students.

And that has to be addressed to make sure students can even qualify for the program.

Other factors could also lead to minorities not applying.

“One of the issues with minorities, many times our kids they have to work. They don't want to commit five weeks to a program where they are going to be away from their family,” Brahim said.

Parents and the school system are just part of the equation.
Community leaders know they play a role as well.

“We should be promoting this program. It’s a collaborative with the sponsors of this project it has to be year round and certainly it needs to be us to commit to that,” Sam Watkins with the Louisville Central Community Centers said.

Watkins says the city has to engage students in the conversation about Governor’s Scholars at a younger age.

Thompson agrees.

“You are in a room with, excuse the term, a bunch of other nerds and you find out it's OK to be a nerd and you can excel as a nerd and it opens a lot of doors for you,” Thompson said.

Jefferson County Public Schools allows 8 percent of their qualified rising seniors apply for the program. They do allow an unlimited amount of minorities, who qualify, to apply as well.

More: Survey finds strong support for public charter schools