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20 Chicago area students travel to China in Urban League program

James Evans 14 ThorntFractional North; Kennedi Jacks14 Immaculate Conception; Jamarcus Walker 15 Legal Prep are among 20 Chicago-arehigh-school students headed

James Evans, 14, of Thornton Fractional North; Kennedi Jackson, 14, of Immaculate Conception; and Jamarcus Walker, 15, of Legal Prep, are among 20 Chicago-area high-school students headed on a Student Mission to China. | Courtesy The Chicago Urban League

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:03AM

As a young black male growing up in the inner city, Raymond Turner is aware of low expectations confronting youth assailed by poverty, violence and poor education.

A visit to China — to immerse in the culture, technology and government of the world’s fastest growing economy — would not be among those expectations, the 17-year-old says.

“This will be my first time actually traveling outside of the U.S., and it’s just an amazing opportunity. I mean, it’s China,” says Turner, among 20 Chicago area students traveling there for two weeks this summer in an all expense-paid trip with the Chicago Urban League.

“China’s really on the rise of economics and architecture. They have a lot of new architectural ideas, and are developing a new, total building system,” said the junior at King College Prep, who plans to study architectural engineering in college.

The League’s first ever Student Mission to China was highlighted Tuesday at its 2013 Summit Luncheon, STEMing the Barriers to Opportunities, which drew 650 members of the business community to the Hilton Chicago. Such programs, according to Urban League President/CEO Andrea Zopp and keynote speaker Christopher Crane, president/CEO of Exelon, are needed to ensure black youth are in the pipeline to fill the nation’s burgeoning future jobs in STEM fields.

STEM fields involve science, technology, engineering and math.

“In the U.S., 6 percent of bachelor degrees are in science or engineering vs. 12 percent in Europe and 70 percent in Korea,” Crane said. “Non-U.S. citizens, particularly from India and China, have accounted for nearly all growth in STEM doctorate degrees in recent years.

“Minority groups comprise only 9 percent of the nation’s college-educated science and engineering workforce. And only 2.7 percent of African Americans who are 24 years old have a degree in science or engineering,” he continued. “The negative gap in achievement between African Americans and all other groups has steadily increased over the last two decades in Chicago Public Schools. This is an unsustainable picture for all of us — the U.S. economy, the ability of the U.S. to compete globally, the Chicago business community.”

The League’s mission mirrors such efforts as President Barack Obama’s three-year-old 100,000 Strong Initiative, a public-private partnership to boost the number and diversity of students studying in China and ensure the next generation is able to engage with an emerging superpower.

That State Department program has already sent several inner city students here to China.

Turner, who lives with his single mother in Washington Park, was among dozens of students who applied to the League, and were screened by grades, essays and interviews.

“When we got the call, I had tears in my eyes, because I know I could never have afforded to send him — never even would have dreamed of it,” said his mother, Nicole Turner, who was laid off in 2011 from her job at AT&T and now is back in school full time.

For Turner, who says he and the two other King students going on the June 22-July 6 trip were friends of murdered King sophomore Hadiya Pendleton, it’s lifted a pall over this school year.

“Hadiya’s killing really changed things for so many of us. We were friends. We talked a lot, and it’s hard to deal with sometimes,” the teen said. “It’s like you feel there’s really no safe place now, and like life isn’t really promised. So, this trip is really a great thing.”

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