Amtrak Pioneer Awards & the Boston Celtics

Amtrak Pioneer Awards & the Boston Celtics

re-pioneer-awards-boston-edOn Monday, February 29, Amtrak brought Black History Month to a close with the Boston Celtics and the final three Pioneer Award honorees for 2016. The Boston lineup included Dr. Krystal Banfield, dean of Berklee City Music, Robert Lewis Jr., founder and president of The BASE, and Dr. Adrian Mims, director of the National Calculus Project.

Each of these individuals represented organizations dedicated to preparing young people with tools for success—starting with confidence, positivity, mentorship, and discipline.

The parents of Dr. Adrian Mims always supported and encouraged him to get an education. After he became a math teacher, however, he noticed the lack of African American and Latino students in his AP Calculus classes. There he realized that this under-representation in high school courses would lead to under-representation in the college programs as well, as they require Calculus prerequisites. As it turns out, AP Calculus is used as a gateway course for college acceptance and also as a “sorter” course to manage enrollment in science majors. So, the primary goal of the National Calculus Project is to prepare students to meet the calculus challenge as it is an avenue to so many other academic opportunities.

Dr. Mims also observed the general anxiety that many students have around math, and he wanted to help them work through this psychological barrier and develop a level of comfort with analysis and higher-order thinking that they can apply to any scholarly or professional pursuit. An interest in the “whole” student prompted their inclusion of character education and African American history alongside the math curriculum. The program also makes a point of immersing middle school and high school students in college environments while inviting visiting professionals of color to share their experiences from STEM fields and beyond. Therefore, participants in the National Calculus Project not only learn the concrete skills for performing mathematic operations, they learn the intangible skills to become compassionate leaders in their communities, and are given the opportunity to realistically visualize themselves becoming successful adults.

At BASE in Boston, young men participate in baseball training and academic enrichment programs to prepare for success on and off the field. Robert Lewis Jr. and his team use positive language to refer to the youth in their programs, preferring to call them “extraordinary” versus “at risk” or “underprivileged.” Although the program started with baseball, BASE more readily celebrates college matriculates over major league hopefuls. Like the Calculus Project, BASE creates new norms for its participants by hosting college fairs and professional guests to expose them to a broad range of possible career paths. All donors must visit their facility in Roxbury, and staff is selected from former program participants to ensure inclusion and commitment. Lewis spoke of his motivation for working with youth players, and explained that feels a simple moral obligation to help ensure that every child has access to quality education, simply because all children deserve it.

Dr. Krystal Banfield agrees that all children are vulnerable and need care and attention regardless of their labels. Through in-school partnerships and out-of-school programs, Berklee City Music provides the resources for students to break barriers through the language of music. Dr. Banfield hails from Detroit, Michigan, where the music of Motown instilled in her messages of hope and encouragement from a very young age. Dr. Banfield started singing in church when she was a child, and her ministry served as an emotional outlet when she was an otherwise very shy girl. Banfield continues to see music as a transformative experience both as a performer and a music educator. She was trained by trailblazing mentors in the African American opera legacy, and she hopes to pass on their example of resilience to her students. Dr. Banfield see Black History Month as a moment to remember our mentors and role models and continue their work to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities.

Amtrak is proud to support people and organizations that continue to make a difference in our committees and looks forward to celebrating such achievements throughout the year.