Author Wil Haygood interviews three college presidents about their experience with Upward Bound at an opening plenary session on Sep. 7.

When a poor D.C. native from Trinidad participated in a federal program during the tumultuous ’60s, no one knew he would attend college and become a college president.  The same is true for a young Black male from a desolate area of Ohio, who, after completing the program, became a Pulitzer Prize-nominee and author of a book that served as the basis of an Oscar-nominated film.

The D.C. native is Dr. Everette Freeman, president of the Community College of Denver, and the Ohioan is Wil Haygood, award-winning author of {The Butler}. The program is Upward Bound.

The men joined other Upward Bound alums for the opening panel of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Council for Educational Opportunity (COE) on Sep. 7. The discussion kicked off a three-day event focused on poverty, educational opportunities, and academic achievement at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in Northwest D.C.

Larry Anderson, president of the Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College and Carlos Colon Ramos, chancellor of the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico – Guayama Campus were also on the panel.

“I am convinced that if it wasn’t for Upward Bound, I would not be sitting on this stage today,” said Freeman, a graduate of Eastern High School in Northeast D.C.  Other speakers agreed. “That’s the magic of the Upward Bound program,” said Haygood, the program’s moderator. “It opens doors that have previously been closed.”

Upward Bound is the first of the TRIO programs, a group of federal programs established as a part of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” It is the first in history of American education to focus solely on helping low-income students go to college. Today, 790,000 low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities are served in numerous programs across the country.

“Upward Bound exists in about 1,200 communities across the country,” Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council of Opportunity in Education, told the {AFRO} following the event. “I want people to know that these programs are as necessary today as they were 50 years ago.”

Statistics reflect Hoyler’s comments. According to the council’s website, only 38 percent of low-income high school seniors go straight to college as compared to 81 percent of those in the highest income percentile. This pattern continues in college, where fewer low-income students graduate.

Panelists compared Upward Bound’s relevance to recent events. “I wished that Michael Brown was an Upward Bound student,” Haygood told the audience. “It is a great interventionist program that helps put youth back on the right path. As I reflect back on his life, I just hope he was dreaming as high as he could.”

Unfortunately, federal funding does not reflect the program’s current need.  Upward Bound programs are being cut in states across the nation, and program alums expressed that this action must be stopped. Imploring the audience to continue to push for the program’s support, Freeman said, “If we allow this program to be under-funded, we have made a mockery of education in this country.”