by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Part of the reason I participated in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” is because I believe that black men have been cheated out of our destiny. The media portrays us to be less than human, our educational system makes us less than intellectual, and the music we hear on the radio teaches us to become weed-smoking, gun-totting, perpetual baby-daddies with little to offer society.
But there are places like the West End School in my hometown of Louisville, KY that are seeking to change that. Starting with a core of accountability, the school is seeking to raise black boys with the foundation necessary to achieve success in a world that is designed to destroy them. This is my kind of institution.
1) What is your name and what do you do?
My name is Benjamin Payne. My wife, 15-month-old daughter and I live in the dormitory. My wife is the school nurse. I teach, coach, and handle whatever administrative tasks the heads of the school send my way, from community outreach to admissions; recruiting employees and volunteers to monitoring study hall. We all take on many roles to keep the school running.
2) What led you to create the West End School, and what needs are being met by the school’s existence?
Statistically, African-American male students in Jefferson County are more likely to end up in prison than to graduate high school. West End School serves to fight such a trend by offering a safe, structured school environment with high expectations. Some students enter the school two to three grade levels behind in Reading, Writing and Math. All of our graduates have placed at or above grade level in all categories. Our eleven graduates have received more than $2 million in scholarship offers from some of the state’s top private schools.
The school’s unofficial motto is, “To Be A Man Is To Be Responsible.” Our primary focus is to teach our students to be men of strong character. By teaching a young man integrity and accountability, he then has the tools to succeed in the classroom and in life.
Robert & Debbie Blair started the school in 2004 with a mission to provide a top education to students who would otherwise not be able to afford one. After a long career in traditional private & boarding schools and observing Louisville’s socio-economic landscape, the Blairs decided to establish West End School with just three-students, two classrooms in a former elementary school and a small house as residence. In its eighth year, West End School now has more than 50 students operating in the better part of the 74,000 square-foot building that formerly housed the Virginia Avenue Colored School (est. 1923) and Carter Elementary School (Schools that produced the likes of Muhammad Ali, Darrell Griffith, and many other prominent Louisvillians).
3) How long has your school been in existence and how have things been going so far?
West End School is in its eighth year. We could not be happier, or feel more blessed, to be in our current situation. We are on pace to have nearly 150 students in six years. Each year we are involving the community more, improving our methods, recruiting exceptional faculty members and providing a better educational experience for the young men we serve.
4) What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered to this point?
We do not have enough staff to properly promote the school. Despite coverage on TV and in newspapers, the distribution of fliers and radio advertising, much of our community still does not know about the School. We have begun working with local community organizations to spread the word and hope to be a well-known entity in our own community soon.
5) What are the goals for the future of the West End School?
Our primary goal is to provide each West End School student with all the tools necessary to achieve in life.
To that end, we plan on building a new gymnasium on campus, expand our dormitory and provide a boarding house for our alumni to support them through high school. We also hope to represent a small portion of the abundant excellence in our community which is continually overlooked and obscured by the media’s coverage of the isolated instances of violence that plague our streets.
6) Is there anything else you’d like for us to know?
West End School welcomes anyone interested to call or email to schedule a visit to the school. The students enrolled carry tremendous responsibility on their shoulders, and have more required of them than most of their peers, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. They not only accept these burdens, but they embrace them in order to better themselves and give their families better futures. As a community, we must encourage our young men to excel, nurture strong character, be examples of integrity, and support them in becoming responsible agents of change.
West End School
3628 Virginia Avenue
Louisville, KY 40211