Masterman students form 'Tribe' to reach success

Masterman students (from left) Gary Willliams, Maurice Scott, Rayshawn Johnson, and Rashaan Brooks Jr. celebrate their upcoming graduation and acceptance into top colleges. The friends call themselves "the Tribe."

Germantown's  Rayshawn Johnson was accepted to eight of the country's best colleges, including Yale and Brown Universities and the University of Pennsylvania.

That makes for  a great story, right? 

But  wait, there's more. His three closest friends scored their fair share of college acceptances, too.

But that's not the whole story, either.

What's special about their tale is how these boys went about making their college dreams come true. They formed  a group  called the Tribe, named after the iconic Queens hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. But instead of being all about beats, rhymes, and life, their focus is on studying, supporting each other, and besting the proverbial odds. Members include Rayshawn, Maurice Scott, Gary Williams, and Rashaan Brooks Jr., all Masterman seniors, three of them starters on the basketball team.

Given all the research surrounding black male achievement that has revealed  that even with equal resources, African American boys still often lag behind their peers, I was curious to learn more about the so-called Tribe.  So I invited members to the newsroom.  They showed up impressively early and dressed  in blazers and tan pants, neckties and dress shoes, an ensemble they'd decided on the night before.

 "We all want to succeed together," said Gary, who is headed to the University of Pittsburgh to major in mechanical engineering.  "I don't want to be the one that's not keeping up with the other three."

The boys, who hail from Olney, Somerton, and West Mount Airy as well as Germantown, got to know each other when they were in seventh grade at the academically rigorous Julia R. Masterman Middle  Laboratory and Demonstration School in Spring Garden. 

Later, when they had successfully moved  to the high school, they looked around and noticed that many of their friends had left for other schools. That's when the Tribe really became a way for the boys -- all African American -- to connect, deal with the intense competition, and cope with issues, racial or otherwise, when they popped up.

 "It was through those times that I could text the group chat at night and be like, 'Yo, this happened today,'" recalled  Rayshawn, who plans to study finance and political science at Yale. "Masterman was challenging, but having these guys with me and to go through it together was a really good crutch."  

Kimyatta Scott, Maurice's mother, considers the Tribe members her other sons, and said they had been good for Maurice, who is one of 10 Pennsylvania students named a Nordenberg Leadership Scholar, which means he gets his tuition paid for eight terms, a chance to study abroad, and three paid summer internships.

"I always tell Maurice, you have to be careful who you associate yourself with," she told me.  "If something goes down, they don't want to hear, 'I'm an A-plus student.' If they know you're with the bad, you're going down with them."

She's got that right.  You hear all the time how so and so was a good boy until he got caught up with the wrong crowd.  It can happen either way.

"I have a friend who may be doing life in prison ... for murder,"  said Rashaan Brooks Jr., who will study physical therapy at Pitt.  "I also have a friend who was murdered two weeks ago. 

"That could be me. They were my close friends," he added.  "So I had to distance myself slowly to get to this point, and then I found Masterman and found these guys. Then, after that, it was easy for me."

The Tribe's story reminds me of that of three doctors from Newark who as kids vowed that despite their bleak circumstances, they would stay in school and graduate from college.  Two became medical doctors and one a dentist. They shared their story in a 2002 book called The Pact: Three Young Black Men Make a Promise and Fulfill a Dream.

 I know it's early, but here's what I suggest  the Tribe title their future book: The Tribe: How Four Young Black Men Stuck Together and Made Their Dreams Come True.

They can do it.