In two weeks, on Friday, June 4th, Los Angeles Urban League and Black College Expo™ will host our second annual Black High School Graduation: Rites of Passage. We hope you will join us live online as we livestream and celebrate Black Excellence with our graduating high school seniors across the nation. This year’s celebration will feature music, entertainment, and a host of celebrities and cultural icons, including YoYo, Crystal Westbrooks, and Kel Mitchell, with special guests Uzo Aduba, Marcus Scribner, Trevor Jackson, Shaun Robinson, and many more. This event is for everyone so we ask that you invite all your friends and family to join this special occasion, which we assure you will be a moment of unity for the Black community and our allies.

Graduating is a big deal, especially in this current environment, graduating from high school is no small accomplishment. We must honor this powerful rite of passage for what it is – a transition and transformation in identity, life experience, and relationships, a remarkable milestone in the lives of our young people that we should recognize and celebrate. High school graduation is not only a right of passage, it gives each graduate the power to face the world with a new sense of achievement and confidence, knowing that they can meet any new challenge.

In 1954 the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Education ruled that segregated schools violated the 14th Amendment and were unconstitutional. Six years later, at the age of six, Ruby Bridges would walk through threatening white mobs to become the first African American child to desegregate William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, Louisiana. Because of this, Ruby and the Bridges family would live through endless, overt racism and constant death threats. Today, at 66, Ms. Bridges is a celebrated civil rights activist, author, and speaker. We say this not only to highlight a powerfully influential civil rights icon but also to illustrate the facts of where African Americans stood within the U.S. education system – not even a lifetime ago. We say this as a reminder of where we were, not so long ago, and what we had to fight for and must continue fighting to get access to the opportunities for ourselves and those coming behind us.

Systemic racism impacts our Black students, with our children perpetually experiencing lower graduation rates than White students. Our children are more likely to experience harsher discipline and suspensions and less likely to be given opportunities to engage in programs for gifted children. Too many of our students live in over-policed neighborhoods and have to dodge state-funded school-to-prison pipelines where African Americans make up most of the population. And when they are in school, too many Black students are met with doubt, scrutiny, and the cynicism of low expectations. Equally damaging, many Black students aren’t encouraged to take advantage of the range of opportunities that exist for them after graduation – including vocational training for lucrative trades, inexpensive community colleges, and affordable four-year universities.

The Urban League joined with Black College Expo to create a Black High School Graduation event to address some of these issues. We created a space where Black Excellence is the norm, the natural result of high expectations, a place where our culture and our voices can be unapologetically Black and proudly express our individual and collective pride. So please join us on June 4th as we honor this Rite of Passage, turn our figurative tassels to the side, and throw our caps in the air. Our children deserve this and so much more.