Elementary Education major Raymond Crenshaw, ’12, has a book as thick as the New York phone book. It’s full of receipts, itineraries, business cards, and pictures from an alternative spring break trip that twelve students from Berea’s Black Cultural Center (BCC) took to Harlem last spring break.
Raymond says the trip started with him trying to bring people to Berea—namely educators Jeffrey Canada and Steve Perry. Both men are noted for their involvement in the charter school movement. When they were unable to visit, Tashia Bradley, then director of the BCC, suggested that Raymond lead a trip to Harlem to see charter schools there. “We had one month to raise $6,000 for the trip,” he says. He and Corey Lewis, ’13, who helped plan the trip, wasted no time contacting donors.
The BCC group visited two schools: the Harlem Success Academy (HSA) and the Future Leaders Institute (FLI). They did filing and cafeteria duty, and distributed flyers and posters to inform residents about the upcoming application lottery. “We worked sun up to sun down,” he says. “Meeting the students was the best part.” At the FLI, Raymond helped lead a class on a tour of Harlem, and then had them construct a papier-mâché model of the community from cereal boxes and newspapers.
The group also went sightseeing while in the Big Apple. At Times Square, they watched Ashton Kutcher and Sarah Jessica Parker filming a movie. They visited Central Park, the mansion of Madame C.J. Walker—the first black woman to become a millionaire in America—and the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965. “It was very emotional,” Raymond says.
They also got to take in a show at the Helen Mills Event Space and Theater, where the Berea College Country Dancers and Bluegrass Ensemble performed for an audience of trustees, selected donors, and alumni. “I had never seen the Bluegrass Ensemble,” Raymond says. “They made me want to dance.”
Raymond’s interest in charter schools is not just academic. Born the youngest of three kids in Birmingham, Alabama, he would like to emulate Joshua Powell, ’97, superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Kentucky and winner of the 2010 Berea College Young Alumnus Award. After earning a master’s in education, Raymond wants to become a school superintendent himself. “Powell’s example means a lot to me,” Raymond says. “It motivates me to try to bring some of the same reforms he has started at Montgomery County to Birmingham City Schools.”
Raymond had met Carl Thomas, ’78, the Associate Director / Coordinator of Minority Services at Berea, but was indifferent to the idea of attending the College until he attended the Carter G. Woodson Weekend in 2008. “I fell in love with the place as soon as I got there,” he says. Berea has helped him blossom. Naturally shy, Raymond’s involvement with the BCC and the Black Students Union (BSU) has helped him come out of his shell. He is the current president of the BSU, and is co-coordinator of the 41st Annual BSU Scholarship Pageant.
Raymond leafs through the organizer from the Harlem trip and shakes his head. “I never thought I could accomplish it,” he says. He has a message for all Berea students: “Dream big. This school is full of opportunities. Anything is possible.”