Singer works to liberate young minds


June 06, 2000|By Pamela Woolford | Pamela Woolford,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

A two-time Grammy Award nominee, gospel singer Wintley Phipps has sung for three U.S. presidents, for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican and at Diana Ross' wedding in Geneva.

"I was the first gospel artist on `Soul Train.' I've been on `Saturday Night Live' doing gospel music," he said.

Phipps, a Long Reach resident, said he sees his musical accomplishments as a means to an end. Pulpit pastor of Seabrook Seventh-day Adventist Church in Seabrook, he said that he believes it is part of God's plan for him to use his visibility to further social causes.

"I could never have orchestrated ... the fact that the music has given me a certain level of visibility," he said.

Phipps is founder of the U.S. Dream Academy, an online remedial learning site with an emphasis on supporting children of prisoners. The academy has its headquarters in Dobbin Center in Columbia.

He founded the nonprofit group after meeting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about three years ago. Phipps was performing at a ceremony in which Mother Teresa was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Gingrich approached Phipps and said, "Every time I hear you, you touch my life," Phipps recalled. (Phipps has performed at other congressional awards ceremonies and prayer breakfasts, and twice at the Democratic National Convention.) Their conversation led to the speaker asking Phipps to coordinate a meeting to discuss strategies to help America's at-risk children. Phipps complied, and the concept for the U.S. Dream Academy was born as he prepared for the meeting. As he researched the issue, Phipps discovered that between 60 percent and 70 percent of prisoners have parents who were themselves incarcerated, he said.

Statistics from the academy's Web site show that, on any given day, there are about 1.5 million children with a parent behind bars, and that children who drop out of school are 3 1/2 times more likely to be arrested than a high school graduate.

Phipps felt these realities should be addressed, so he developed a proposal to provide access to what he calls "prescriptive curriculum" through a Web site where students take tests to receive personalized study programs based on individual strengths and weaknesses.

Last year, he secured public and private grant funds, including $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Labor to design and implement a demonstration site in Washington. The center opened in Southeast Washington this year, providing on-site tutoring in addition to the online program.

Earlier in the year, Phipps met with President Clinton about the academy's development. According to the academy's Web site, the president recommended additional government aid opportunities.

Phipps plans to expand the academy with additional centers such as the one in Washington. "We are in negotiation with an organization that wants us to scale up to about 100 of those centers across the country," he said.

As the organization's president, Phipps maintains a full schedule, but still finds time for his music. He is working on a Christmas CD, his 13th album, to be released in November on his own label, Coral Records. Proceeds from the album will benefit the academy.

Howard residents can see Phipps perform at 2 p.m. Sunday at Wilde Lake High School as part of Race Unity Day 2000, an annual Howard County festival.

Wilde Lake High School is at 5460 Trumpeter Road.

Information: 410-313-6430.

Awards program

The Howard County Foundation for Black Educational and Cultural Achievement held its 20th annual awards program last month, presenting 18 scholarships of $1,000 each and 12 awards of $250 each to college-bound high school seniors.

The application process for students, who must meet academic and community service requirements, includes writing a personal essay and undergoing a series of interviews. Scholarships are granted to successful applicants through a lottery system, and alternates are chosen to receive any scholarships not claimed by the original recipients.

Recipients include Oakland Mills High School students Stephanie Amponsahand Justin Fox; and Long Reach High School students Angela Darity,Taneesha Mathews, Freddie PruittII, Jason Robinson, Nicole Turner and Corinn King.

Erika Stewart of Long Reach High and Kori Scott and Marcus West of Oakland Mills High were named as alternates.

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