Roszalyn Akins

Black Male Working (BMW) Academy (KY)

Roszalyn Akins has been sending out an SOS for decades. But the SOS she proclaims is not a distress call but rather, a call to action: Save Our Sons.

A longtime educator and trusted member of the Lexington, Kentucky, community, Akins was disturbed by how Black males at Leestown Middle School–where she had taught and served as Dean of Students–lagged far behind their peers. Her church, First Baptist Church Bracktown, was connected to Leestown through an “Adopt A School” program, so Akins decided to build on that relationship to focus on student achievement and academic success. Christened the Black Male Working (BMW) Academy, the initiative set out to educate, motivate and activate the potential for excellence for those middle school boys.

Fast forward sixteen years. What started with 40 boys in grades 6-8 has blossomed into a highly successful, highly sought-after, multi-site K-12 program dedicated to positioning young Black males for college and career success. More than 435 Lexington youth have been forever shaped though their involvement with BMW Academy, including those in the earliest cohort who have gone on to graduate from college and come back to help those who follow in their footsteps.

It’s a rigorous program that students and their families must apply to, and that requires commitment from the students and their families. Academy students must attend weekly Saturday sessions, limit television and video games, read a minimum of 60 minutes a night, participate in community service programs, maintain a minimum grade point average to participate in educational and college trips, and maintain good conduct at home, school and in the community. They hear from successful Black men in the community and gain real-life skills ranging from money management and dressing for success to manners and being well-spoken. There’s also Beautillion, a semi-annual BMW Black Tie Event where juniors and seniors are presented to society by their mothers.  

“We are in a war right now in this country for the future of Black men,” say Akins. “To quote Frederick Douglass, it’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men. Through BMW Academy, boys and young men see that there is a place for them in this world, and that there are people who want to help them succeed.”