There was a time in Chicago when the city faced a shocking statistic – only one in 40 of the African-American boys who entered the Chicago Public School District as a freshman was predicted to earn a college degree within a decade. Fighting to change this statistic, Tim King and other African-American business, civic and education leaders in Chicago founded a nonprofit organization called Urban Prep Academies in 2002. By 2006, the first of three charter schools was opened on Chicago’s south side, and by 2010, the academies saw 100 percent of their graduates admitted to four year colleges and universities around the country. Eight years later, Urban Prep Academies celebrated their ninth year of seeing 100 percent of their graduates admitted to four year institutions, roughly 200 students each year.
To announce this achievement Urban Prep hosts Signing Day, an annual ceremony that began in 2010 where students from all three charter locations line up on stage, stand before an audience of family, friends, educators and citizens of Chicago and proclaim the college or university they will attend after graduation.
“Signing Day was borne out of the idea that our young men should be celebrated for their academic achievements the same way four and five star athletes are when they decide they will go to college to play a sport,” said Troy Boyd, Jr., Senior Director, Institutional Advancement at Urban Prep Academies. “Black boys so often see other black men/boys only being celebrated because they are athletic or musically inclined. We wanted to be intentional about sending them the message that succeeding in school is even more important.”
In 2017, Top of the World, the leader in college licensed apparel and headwear, joined forces with Urban Prep to give students a hat of their respective future college or university to put on as they announced their future college plans. The idea for the partnership came after Renata Kukowski, Top of the World’s Vice President of Marketing & Licensing, came across an article online about Signing Day.
“At our core, Top of the World exists to give fans – be it students, alumni or sports fans – the chance to show their passion,” said Kukowski. “When we sell a college hat or shirt, we further support our university partners by generating royalty dollars that fund academic initiatives and the overall university mission. What we’ve started with Urban Prep allows us to see this come full circle, as many of the young men of Urban Prep have been granted scholarships to go to college, and by putting on that hat, they symbolically begin that new chapter of their lives. It’s amazing to see the small but hopefully meaningful way we can support them in that journey!”
Since 2017, Top of the World has collaborated with Urban Prep for each Signing Day, a partnership that Tim King, Founder and CEO at Urban Prep Academies, hopes will continue in the years ahead.
“Top of the World’s contribution to our annual Urban Prep College Signing Day the last two years has been tremendous,” said King. “The seniors are always so excited to don their new college hats at the event. Our organization is incredibly thankful to them and looks forward to partnering with them for years to come.”