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Colleges woo top minority scholars

November 23, 1996

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Working hard and getting good grades is the best ticket to a good college education, say a group of black Martinsburg High School juniors. But good grades don't always ease the pain of discrimination that all say they feel.

"When you do get to college, people automatically think you got there on an athletic scholarship," said Tim Washington, 16, a starter on the school's basketball team who says his marks alone are enough to get him a scholarship at a good college.

Washington and five of his classmates spent last weekend at Marshall University. It was the school's annual minority weekend, a two-day promotion to attract minority students to the Huntington, W.Va., university.

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Only students with a grade-point of average of 3.4 and above were invited, said Les Smith, a guidance counselor at Martinsburg High School. "It was for students with exceptional academic ability," he said.

All state colleges and universities try hard to recruit top minority students. "A good minority student has many opportunities," he said.

Only about 3 percent of the more than 1,200 students at Martinsburg High are black. About half of them go to college, Smith said.

Cory Farris, interim director of student services at West Virginia University, said his school tries to attract top African-American students. About 3 percent of the school's 21,000 students are black, Farris said.

Farris said there has been no tension or racial unrest at WVU. "We try to attract African-American students because it's important for the diversity of the whole student population. Going to college is learning about the world, interacting with all kinds of people."

Washington said he is looking at the University of Kentucky or Villanova in Philadelphia as possible college choices. He wants to major in business first, then follow up with a law degree.

Shireen Brathwaite, 16, is considering colleges in the Northeast. "Right now, I'm still taking SATs. I'll think about where I want to go after that." Her plans include degrees in international business and law, she said.

Washington and Brathwaite are among the top five students academically in their class.

Dawn Bullett, 17, wants a career in music and business and is considering Shenandoah College in Winchester, Va., or James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. "They have good music programs," she said.

For Paul Mason Jr., it's a southern college, maybe Morehouse University, a predominantly black school. "You can learn more about your culture there," Mason said.

Mariama Moody, 15, is also considering a black college, where she, too, will study music.

All five said family support and encouragement by their parents has been their key to their success.

"My dad has been my role model," Washington said. "He tells me to strive for what I want." He has three sisters in college. All are A students, he said.

Mason said his father has been stressing school since he was in the second grade. "My grandmother, too. Sometimes she calls me on the phone out of the blue and tells me to get an education so I won't become a dummy on the street."

Brathwaite has big academic shoes to follow. She has a brother at Harvard University. Bullett comes from a large Martinsburg family. One of her sisters, Vicky Bullett, is an Olympic gold medalist. Most of her older siblings have gone to college. "My parents expect me to go, too," she said.

But, the students say, it matters little what grades they get, it never stops the discrimination they feel.

"Some people think our grades are fixed just so we can play sports," Bullett said.

"They don't understand what we have to go through in a day's time," Mason said. "Some black people make it bad for all of us. We're guilty by association. We go into a store and a woman will clutch her purse tighter to her when she sees us. Managers will follow us around the store while we shop."

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