From believing to success: True stories of urban-dwelling youth of color

September 6, 2017

“We believe.”

It’s part of the mantra at the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Chicago, Ill.—and it’s the backbone of a new book set to be published in September 2017 by Michigan State University Assistant Professor Chezare Warren.

Urban Preparation: Young Black Men Moving from Chicago’s South Side to Success in Higher Education” (Harvard Education Press) is a critical race examination of 17 young men’s education trajectories from high school at Urban Prep to and through colleges or universities across the United States. It explores how inside and outside of school experiences helped and motivated them to persist through and complete college.

Urban Prep, established in 2006, was built on the notion that a school should support and facilitate a college-going culture. Many of its first graduates didn’t picture themselves going to college, some seeing college-going as a “fairy tale.” Yey, the school’s efforts significantly bolstered students’ academic self-efficacy—allowing them to imagine what their future could hold, including and beyond college. These young men learned to believe in the possibilities, and achieve them.

Warren was one of the founding teachers, serving as the first math teacher. He taught every single one of the young men mentioned in the book, all of whom are members of Urban Prep’s inaugural graduating class—individuals who started at the school in their freshman year and graduated from the school four years later. At the time research for the book was conducted, each of the young men were on track to graduate from college within six years of their initial enrollment.

Celebrating communities of color

Warren’s connection to the students puts him in a unique position to follow and write about their lives. He started on the “ground level” with them, and through the years paid attention to where their lives were going as his career progressed to K-12 and higher education.

Warren aimed for his book to showcase the first-hand perspectives and experiences of the young men as they describe those experiences. He uses a critical race counter storytelling method; that is, he centers these young Black men’s voices through the book to oppose mainstream, deficit points of view about the factors that most influence the education outcomes of Black (male) youth and urban youth more generally.

“These students have strength and expertise that is valuable,” said Warren, who is part of the MSU Department of Teacher Education. “This book constructs communities of color as not broken, but full of considerable strength and talent. It’s our responsibility as educators, as adults, to create conditions that honor and embrace that.”

Schools must develop approaches that humanize all students, Warren said, not silo them or put limitations on their dreams. He hopes readers of the book see the experiences of the young men featured in “Urban Preparation” as an inspiration for creating school environments that better cater to the diverse needs of young Black men and boys.

“The heartbeat of the book are the voices of these young men,” Warren added, “and they’re loud!”

The book is set for publication on Sept. 19 through Harvard Education Press. When purchasing through Harvard’s website, use code “UP2017” to receive a 20% discount.

Learn more about Warren’s research

Read another one of his publications: “White Women’s Work: Examining the Intersectionality of Teaching, Identity and Race” (Information Age Publishing, Feb. 2017). The book illuminates some of the unique difficulties that are specific to white women educators who are teaching an ever-growing number of students of color.

Visit his website at