Bobby Sands, MP, made many poetical statements while interned in Long Kesh. With apologies to Bobby, this is the essence of my favorite quote – “No one can do everything but everyone has their part to play.”
I thought of it recently when volunteering to do a benefit performance for Brooklyn Jesuit Prep.
I had been introduced to the school some years back by a friend, Fr. Vin Biagi, SJ. What a visit it turned out to be; for out in Crown Heights Brooklyn Jesuit Prep is striving to achieve an inspirational goal – break the cycle of poverty among the working poor.
Read more: When New York was Irish, in summers long ago
Each year roughly 30 students are accepted into 5th and 6th grades of this exemplary middle school. They are not “cherry-picked” by academic achievement. No, first and foremost Brooklyn Jesuit Prep chooses its students by family income level and is dedicated to those who cannot afford traditional Catholic school; even the modest monthly tuition of $75 can be a struggle for many BJP families.
Students and parents are fighting for a chance to succeed and to provide a new generation of well-rounded leaders for their communities.
Fifty percent of these strivers are African-American, while 36% are Caribbean-American. This is their shot to receive a first-class Jesuit education, and the very walls of the old St. Theresa of Avila School on Sterling Place reverberate with purpose and determination.
You’re greeted by a student guide and spoken to in a welcoming but forthright manner. The guide is not only eager to talk about his or her own experience but to share their pride in the achievements of their peers.
Almost 100% of BJP students eventually graduate within four years from excellent high schools, while over 95% continue on to college or post-secondary education.
But this school is not just about academics. The goal in President Patricia J. Gauvey’s words is "to educate our students to be men and women for others so that by the end of their time at BJP, our graduates are open to growth, are intellectually competent, religious, loving and committed to doing justice."
You’ve only to sit in on one of the classes given by any of the excellent teachers to see how these goals are achieved. Each student receives dedicated individual attention, is challenged and expected to contribute to the class both intellectually and socially.
The school also fosters a distinct culture of mentorship where the older students work with the youngsters to help them find their own path to achievement.
This mentorship continues every summer when all rising 6th, 7th, and 8th graders attend the month-long BJP leadership program at Fairfield University.
But what’s most amazing is that BJP continues to support its graduates when they leave for high school, whether that’s providing financial assistance or counsel through the difficult teenage years.
The annual budget for all this is $1.5 million and less than $100K comes from tuition. The state kicks in almost $200K but the balance of $1.2 million is raised through donations with some help from the Jesuit Community.
As you can imagine it’s an ongoing struggle to keep this dream solvent and alive. How can you help?
Well, you could attend the “Ireland – A History in Song” benefit show that Andrew Sharp and I will perform at Manhattan’s Xavier High School on Friday, Sept 21 at 7:30 pm.
Tickets at $25 can be purchased online, (see below) and if still available, at the door. All receipts go to the school. Beverages will be served.
This is no dry history lesson, I can assure you. It will contain many of Black 47’s iconic songs including James Connolly, Fire of Freedom, Livin’ in America.
You’ll discover how “Sex in Wexford” led to 800 years of English colonization, get a bracing eyewitness account of An Gorta Mór, The Great Hunger, and visit New York’s legendary Five Points where Irish Famine immigrants and African-Americans intermarried and created tap-dancing to the re-imagined music of Stephen Foster.
If unable to attend, you might wish to contribute online to Brooklyn Jesuit Prep, and I urge you to do so.
You’ll be assisting the children of the working poor to break the cycle of poverty, rejuvenate their communities, and partake fully in the American dream.
Larry Kirwan & Andrew Sharp at Xavier High School, 39 West 15th St., NYC Friday, Sept 21, 7:30 pm.
For tickets, information, or to make a contribution http://www.brooklynjesuit.org/