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Urban Education Symposium Focused On The Role Of Religion In Student Success

Florida State College at Jacksonville

Jacksonville's 6th Annual Urban Education Symposium,  a major initiative to reverse the high school drop out rates for the city’s black male students, is set for this weekend.Dr. Barbara Darby and Pastor Mark Griffin are part of the group of educators and activists behind the event. They joined Melissa Ross for a preview.

"In 2009, a group of us decided this community needed a call to action around this issue because we saw young black males being left behind" said Darby.

That first symposium resulted in 13 initiatives, and Darby said the organizers have continued to advocate for the city's young black men.

While the high school drop out rate is a focus of the symposium, Darby said it's just the first step in helping students people become contributing members of their community.

"We have to understand that we are one city," said Pastor Griffin, when asked about the importance of focusing on these students.

"When we have a large segment of our community that consistently lags behind in terms of graduation rates and all the other statistics that we normally look at, it's important that we sound the alarm and understand that this is not just a problem within the black community," he said.

"When you raise this group of young people up, in terms of their being able to be a productive part of the society, it helps all of Jacksonville."

The most recent data shows that while there has been a slight improvement in graduation rates across the county, the gap between African American males and other groups remains.

This year's symposium will focus on faith-based programs and partnerships, which Darby said have been an "integral part" of the city's black community as a whole.

"We want to call on them to be part of the solution," she said.

READ: The program for Saturday's 6th Annual Urban Education Symposium in Jacksonville

"One of the portions of this symposium is to really highlight those churches and faith communities that are involved, but also to help the larger community understand how they can help these churches," said Griffin.

The symposium is designed to connect churches to potential volunteers and pair religious institutions up with specific schools for outreach programs.

Griffin said part of the role of the city's faith community is to fill in the gaps for young people whose economic or family situations may distract them or not allow them to focus fully on academic success.

The symposium's keynote speaker, Pastor Brian Gullins from the Family and Fatherhood Initiative of Richmond, Va., will discuss an initiative to strengthen the bonds between fathers and sons.

The 6th Annual Urban Education Symposium is scheduled to begin Saturday at 7:30 a.m. at the Florida State College at Jacksonville's main library. You can get more info online at

You can follow Melissa Ross on Twitter @MelissainJax and Patrick Donges @patrickhdonges.