Isa Olufemi is passionate about getting young people to go to college. “I had so much fun in college that when I found out you could be a college advisor, I jumped on the opportunity,” says Olufemi, who worked as a college access program specialist with the CollegeBound Foundation for four years. “There is so much learning that happens at the academy, it changes you.”
Olufemi spent two of his years with CollegeBound at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, helping students get to and through college. This year, he will continue his work with the students at Dunbar through the Poet Pride Run Club (PPRC). The running club combines physical fitness with school pride, personal growth and college preparation.
The club is open to all students, though the goal is to recruit upperclassmen who are actively researching and applying to schools. Olufemi was dismayed to see the decline of physical education in the public school system, where most students only seriously participate in a sport if they are on a team. The running club will help students improve their physical fitness while also preparing them for life after high school.
On days when they are not running, the participants receive individual and group advisement to help them prepare for college whether they are beginning the college conversation, writing essays, meeting with admissions officers or applying for financial aid.
The runners in the PPRC also participate in innovative service learning experiences. In the club’s first year, Olufemi developed a partnership with Under Armour. Throughout the year, club members travel to Under Amour’s Global Headquarters in Locust Point to work out with UA’s run/train team and to participate in community initiatives. Last year during Black History Month, the runners met with some of the company’s black designers who shared their success stories as well as the products they helped create. Olufemi notes that the experience was eye-opening for many of his students, who come from communities where career opportunities are limited. And, most recently, Under Armour sponsored the club in the Baltimore Running Festival.
As a founding member of the Black Running Organization (BRO), Olufemi knows the cultural impact of organizing, educating and conditioning people through running and he wanted to offer those same growth opportunities to the students at Dunbar. He also hopes that his program will help strengthen the “Poet Pride” at Dunbar, revive the school’s prominence as a community high school and change the perception of young black people in the community. “Sometimes we take our 7 a.m. Unity Run through downtown Baltimore,” Olufemi says. “I know that when people see us running, they are inspired to grow themselves and that’s why we say LETSGROW.”
The PPRC also has adopted BRO’s slogan – “LETSGROW.” For Olufemi, this applies to everything they do in the club and in life. Ultimately, the program’s goal is that the students get college acceptance letters, enroll and arrive on campus ready to grow; that they graduate from high school with a plan of action. “The PPRC is about the students’ holistic education,” says Olufemi. “It’s about constant development, so LETSGROW.”
Listen to Olufemi talk about the Poet Pride Run Club on WYPR’s On the Record.