Johnson grew up in the s on the South Side of Chicago, the oldest child of a single mother who emphasized the importance of education even as she battled drug addiction. School always came easy to Johnson; he worked hard in class and did his homework every night. When Johnson was 10, his mother became pregnant, and he started accompanying her to doctor appointments. The science of how a tiny group of cells transforms in the womb into a baby, the magic and mystery of the birth process, fascinated him, and something else captured his attention, too, something he had never seen before.
The little boy thought about the way the white doctors at the public clinic had treated his mom with indifference and often disdain. A few years later, he enrolled at an all-black, mostly poor South Side high school, where he continued to excel in all his classes and dreamed of a life as a physician. On his own, he paged through college guides at the local library, looking for schools with strong pre-med programs. He came across Xavier, which boasted of sending the largest number of black graduates to medical school.
Johnson graduated second in his class in He headed to Xavier full of confidence and expectations. As he moved into his dorm, he found it invigorating to be around so many smart young black people with similar goals. He felt as though he fit in. And then he took his first college science classes. Stuff that kids knew from high school, general physics and chemistry, I had no idea, none. I had never done poorly academically my whole life, and I realized for four years of high school, I had never been challenged.
But it was worse than that.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities
I watched all of my life young people who were poor and very bright. Instead of receiving more resources to help them succeed, black students, almost without exception, get less. At Xavier, Johnson found himself the embodiment of those statistics, and he was reeling.
As he sat in his general biology and chemistry classes, in which even basic concepts were unfamiliar, he tried to quiet the rising panic, thinking that if he did what he had always done, just worked harder, he would get it. Johnson realized that if he was going to make it, he needed help. He scheduled an appointment with Professor J. Carmichael, a chemistry professor, arrived at Xavier in , not long after Francis was named president.
At the time, Carmichael was young, untenured and brashly outspoken about what the college could be doing to place more of its students in medical schools. Despite its rigorous science program, Xavier was sending only about five to eight graduates to medical school each year. To him, that model squandered the talent of far too many students, especially black ones.
Carmichael, who is in his 70s now, is short and a bit frumpy and wears oversize glasses. He is white and grew up in a poor family in rural New Mexico, and he knew something about what students like Johnson experienced when they arrived at college. Carmichael believed that a student needed to know he was failing long before he took his midterm exam.
He connected Johnson to tutoring centers set up for each of his science courses.
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There, Johnson met students from other classes, and they began holding large study groups led by a particularly brilliant classmate who would quickly learn the material and then teach it to others. Students would stay up until the wee hours of the morning helping one another.
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These study groups encouraged just the sort of collaboration Francis had imagined. The faculty members collaborate on what they will teach and create a workbook for these courses that every professor must use. If professors want to teach something not in a workbook, they must present it to the faculty group for approval.
The workbooks take the complicated material in science textbooks, which often overwhelms students, and specifies, step by step, everything students need to know for the class. The faculty members then incorporate regular tests and drills, not only to assess students but also to evaluate whether professors need to adjust their teaching.
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But they teach to where the students are and not just the way they want to teach. Excelling in biology and chemistry is only part of what gets students into medical school. Johnson attended weekly meetings with Carmichael, at which he continually received checklists and timelines, learned of research and internship opportunities and met graduates who spoke firsthand about getting into medical school.
The pre-med office had Johnson and his classmates gather their letters of recommendation early, made sure they were good enough and then kept them on file until they were needed. Johnson prepared for his MCATs with the help of professors, whom Carmichael had instructed to take the exams themselves so they would know what their students should expect. Wearing a suit and tie, Johnson took part in mock interviews. He would stand in the hall, near a wall decorated with the photos of smiling Xavierites who had become doctors, and reprimand students who professors reported had missed a class or a deadline.
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Students had to turn in cards signed by their professors showing how they had done on quizzes. The system worked for Johnson. After his rocky start, he graduated from Xavier on time in with a B average. Though the holes in his education continued to challenge him — he had to take the MCATs three times — he attended medical school at the University of Illinois in Peoria, where he was the only black student in his class.
Johnson said he felt like a man on an island; no one seemed to care if he succeeded or failed. But he pressed on, and two years ago, Johnson, who is now 35, completed his ob-gyn residency. He works in a practice in Decatur, Ill. Though federal law required states to treat them and predominantly white colleges equally, states never did. Lawsuits over the years have argued that states still fail to do so.
Alabama settled a similar case in , and in , a federal judge found that Maryland discriminated against its historically black colleges. Louisiana is home to three public, four-year historically black colleges. As they have fought to get their equal share of government funding, these colleges have also struggled to build endowments. That means it takes them much longer before they can write checks to their alma maters instead of to their loan holders. Although the colleges helped build the black middle class, the black middle class is often not in a position to give back.
Even in the best of economic times, the unemployment rate for black college graduates is more than twice that of white college graduates. An August study released by the Federal Reserve of St. Alumni do give, Francis said, but the donations are often small. It is often a good indicator of whether or not you have overextended yourself credit wise. If you are renting, you may want to include your rent payment in your numbers as you consider your debt to income ratio. A great goal is to pay off old debts that you have let go. This can be a tricky process, and you need to be sure that you approach it in the correct manner.
When you begin to pay off the old debt you should contact one company at a time and work out a deal with them. This can help to improve your credit report. This process takes time. You will need to save up for each debt one at a time.
FORMS & CHECKLISTS
You will also need to pay taxes on any amount that is forgiven, so you will need to set aside money for that, as well. One of the first steps to getting out of debt is to stop going deeper into debt each month. This means that you should stop using your credit cards each month.
This can be a difficult process, especially if you find yourself using them every month to cover shortfalls. Learn what you can do to stop using credit cards each month. You can often find a lower interest rate or take advantage of zero percent introductory rates to make it easier to pay off your credit cards more quickly. You should only do this if you have already stopped using your credit cards.
Both of these strategies can help you speed up the process of paying off your debt early.
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