BLOOMINGTON -- All students can overcome adversity, succeed in school and attend college, says the founder of Urban Prep Academies in Chicago, a charter school notable for sending its entire 2010 graduating class of 107 boys to college.

Tim King was the keynote speaker Friday at the second annual Excellence Gala sponsored by 100 Black Men of Central Illinois at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Normal.

"What I want residents in Bloomington-Normal to understand is that it can be done despite poverty, income levels, or the amount of education a student has had in the past," King said. "The issues that the school districts and administrators face in Bloomington and Normal are the same types of issues that we face in Chicago and throughout the whole country. But at the end of the day, the children should be the focus and ensuring they know that they can achieve anything they want."

King still heads the school he founded in 2002 in the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago's west side and later expanded with a branch in the East Garfield Park area. Most of the students come from low-income households and start at the private, nonprofit prep school reading three or more years below grade level, he said.

More than 300 people attended the event. The mission of 100 Black Men of Central Illinois is to work within the community to deliver educational support and unique learning opportunities for youths, said the chapter's president, Dale Avery.

"Education is really what the focus of our group is all about," Avery said. "We want to enhance the education rates for all students in Bloomington-Normal, and we do that by focusing on four pillars, which include mentoring, education, health and wellness, and economic development."

Avery said the local chapter works closely with both Bloomington District 87 and the Normal-based Unit 5 school district to promote education.

"We don't want our youth just to graduate, but we want them to get a four-year degree or to go to trade schools," Avery said. "That's the outcome we hope for now, and what we would hope is that someday, that's the outcome we expect from everyone."

Avery said the graduation rate for black students in Bloomington-Normal is around 82 percent, which is above the state average.

"Even though that is pretty good, you still have to be concerned that out of 100 kids, 18 are not graduating," he said. "We want these kids to graduate and then move on to secondary school. Programs like tonight where we get together and talk about education are very important to helping us achieve those goals."

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