CINCINNATI -- Monday was the first day of school for Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, and Vito Thornton had arrived an hour and fifteen minutes early.
He isn’t a student. He was standing in front of the Linn Street campus to surprise his daughters and to help make the start of the academic year something special for students at the West End K-12 charter school.
“My daughters go here, and it’s going to be a big surprise. (They’re) not expecting me down here," he said. "It’s an important day, so it’s a way to welcome them back.”
As he waited for his children, Thornton stood in a growing line of men greeting children in blue uniforms, some arriving on foot with their families, some by yellow bus. “Shining Star” by Earth, Wind & Fire and other songs played over a loudspeaker as kids were met with high-fives and handshakes.
“We got a senior here!” someone shouted, as a teenage boy approached the two lines of men that formed a greeting aisle. The crowd cheered.
It wasn’t just the first day of the 2016-17 school year. It was the school’s second annual 100 Rising event. Inspired by the Atlanta chapter of 100 Black Men, which in 2015 called for black men to dress in business attire and welcome kids to the new school year, it’s intended to offer positive role models, strengthen community and get area men involved in the school as volunteers. In its first year CCPA’s event drew more than 100 men to the school.
The crowd this year at 1425 Linn St. may have been a little smaller, but energy was high, the atmosphere festive.
Jeremiah Kennedy, a CCPA teacher, said the event was meant to show, “It’s not just the women taking care of the community,” though volunteers at the school tend to be mothers and grandmothers. “We’re starting to show that we got our men here, you know, not just women.
“We have positive men here, successful men that are not that stereotype of the streets. We have businessmen, entrepreneurs -- people that are out there doing a lot of positive things. I think it’s a good way to start our kids out, let them know that, hey, the future is theirs. It’s a positive thing, to let our kids see that there’s men that’s backing them, too.”
CCPA has about 940 students, the majority of them African-American.
Michelle Simpson, principal of the school, said, “This gives our kids that very fresh start coming in, starting school off seeing all these positive figures, which gives them what they need to start the year feeling good about themselves, feeling motivated.”
Robert Butler was another parent who arrived ahead of his child. “My son will be in the sixth grade,” he said. “He’s been attending CCPA for the last six years here.
“Today,” said Butler, who is originally from Cleveland, “we’re welcoming all the kids back here on the first day of school -- and also bringing out the black men here in the community -- just to show that we want our kids to go and excel in school. You start on a good foot, you end on a good foot.
“It’s a very good turnout,” he said, scanning the crowd and noting his son should be arriving any time. “You got a bunch of proud parents.”
Taking a microphone, Simpson kept things festive during a brief lull in the arrival of students. “Today is a good day. We are welcoming our babies back to school!”
Among the community members attending was Eliot Isaac, chief of the Cincinnati Police Department. “I got a call from one of the gentlemen that I knew who was participating, and he asked me to come,” he said.
“This is one of the most important things for our community, that we support our kids, our young folks going back to school,” he said. “I’ve worked here in the West End for a lot of years. I remember when this was the old Washburn School. Now to see it (housing) the College Preparatory Academy, to see the number of kids here, is a very exciting thing.”
The last of the students were arriving.
“I couldn’t think of a better way to start the day.”