When McCallie administrators were looking for a way to reach out to the broader Chattanooga community and build stronger connections, they quickly zeroed in on a program started by alumnus Robert Eager ’63. Mr. Eager recently started the Reconciliation Education Project, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., to help young people of all backgrounds “work on the nation’s unfinished business of achieving the American promise of justice, inclusion, and equality of opportunity in our diverse society.”
One program that the Reconciliation Education Project offers is known as “Own Your History” and includes classroom and extracurricular material to help students come together across racial, social, and economic divides.
Middle School Principal Scotty Jones reached out to the CEO of Chattanooga Preparatory School Brad Scott who immediately embraced the program. The result was a series of evening gatherings last February and March by 18 middle school boys – nine from Chattanooga Prep and nine from McCallie – to share their history, to find ways to bridge differences, and to become future leaders of the Chattanooga community. Chattanooga Prep is an all-boys charter school located in the Highland Park neighborhood near McCallie’s campus. Its student body is comprised of mostly minority students.
According to Bess Steverson, Director of Development for Special Initiatives, who coordinated the program, the gatherings were a huge success with all participants saying they want to continue it in future years.
“Someday all of you will be sitting on boards and committees of Chattanooga businesses and organizations so it is important you learn now how to work through differences and build a strong community,” the boys were told at their first session by Mr. Jones. “This program will help build those bridges that will be so critical for the future of our community.”
Mr. Scott agreed. “This program is a launching pad to building a better, stronger community.” He told the 18 participants, “You young men will be known as the trailblazers.”
The students met on Monday nights from Feb. 8 through March 22. The first three sessions were held at Chattanooga Prep and the last three sessions were held at McCallie. The students were chosen for their leadership and academic skills as well as their interest in the project.
Kelcey Watson, a McCallie Middle School teacher and Upper School Learning Center specialist, was one of the facilitators of the program which was modeled from a “Own Your History” after-school program used by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakland, California.
At the end, the participants gave the sessions high marks. “It helped me to face challenges with new people,” seventh grader Cooper Gentle told Chattanooga’s NPR affiliate WUTC radio. “When we first met and were having conversations, we were kind of uncomfortable (but) working together and talking about these deep things in conversations were really beneficial. . . I hope I’ll be able to do what we did in this program and apply it to real life situations in the future.
Mrs. Steverson praised Mr. Eager for providing the stimulus for the gatherings. “He represents the best of McCallie, creating this great nonprofit organization that is helping bridge a lot of divides in our country.”