Boys and Girls Club of America alumnus Denzel Washington, who was in Washington Sept. 15 to promote the organization’s new initiative to decrease dropout rates among youth, told a National Press Club gathering that more such programs are needed to help keep kids on the right track to becoming productive citizens.

“We support programs that exist but we need every American to do his part to increase academic enhancement efforts,” Washington said. “Our goal is simple to state but hard to achieve, unless the entire nation understands and responds to the dropout crisis.”

Having served as Club spokesman for the past 18 years, Washington also ventured over to the White House, where he teamed up with singer Ashanti to kick off BGCA’s “Be Great, Graduate” project, aimed at youth at risk for dropping out of high school.

The father of four stated that as BGCA refocuses its strategy to increase graduation rates, the Club would like to see every girl and boy graduate, prepared with not just the attitude and knowledge to succeed, but also armed with confidence to achieve their full potential.

“This is what I came from. This is what I’m here for. This is what makes me happy the Club has had an enormous impact on my life,” Washington, 55, said referencing experiences growing up in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. Washington shared a story about how a Club mentor had once told he could do anything he wanted to do. “And I’ve never forgotten that,” said the two-time Oscar-winning actor.

BGCA, which has 1,400 of its facilities located in schools, serves as the world’s largest network of youth development organizations. The clubs, which serve students when classes are not in session, are also largely located in communities where dropout rates have a tendency to be higher.

According to club statistics, nationally, 1.3 million students in the Class of 2010 failed to graduate, and for Black and Latino males the rate currently stands at nearly 50 percent among. BCGA also stresses that the situation is so dire that a youth drops out of school every 26 seconds.

Dr. Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University has done extensive research on factors that lead to high numbers of dropouts, and has maintained that the crisis can be solved. Balfanz said in a statement issued on behalf of BGCA that it’s possible to identify, at an early age, children at risk of dropping out of school.

“The chances of changing a child’s life course and helping them to graduate from high school are much more likely at a younger age,” Balfanz said.

Romonia Dixon, BGCA’s 2010-2011 national youth of the year, also participated on the panel with Washington. She said the Club played a vital role in helping her graduate and in becoming the first member of her family to attend college.
“I owe so much of who I am to the Club,” said Dixon, whose focus is to encourage more students to stay in school and get their diploma.