Across the street from the bleakness and poverty of the Marble Hill Housing Project on Broadway and West 228th Street, Urban Ellis has turned St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church into a safe haven for Bronx students,with the hope of helping more students attend college.A resident of Marble Hill for 50 years, Ellis, a 77-year-old retired salesman, understands the challenges and obstacles facing many Bronx students who believe that a college education is out of their reach. Ellis dropped out of high school twice. He went on to drive a taxi while taking home study courses before becoming a salesman and technical recruiter.
When he retired in 1994, Ellis decided to play an active role in curtailing violence in the Bronx. After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, Ellis was compelled to attend a youth peace summit at Fordham University. There he met Beverly Coleman-Miller from the Harvard School of Public Health, who gave him the idea to create STOP: Students and Teachers Organized with Parents against Guns, Violence, and Drugs. STOP offers journalism, music and computer literacy classes to help keep children off the streets and out of trouble. The students create their own newsletter and learn to express themselves through writing instead of violence.
Ellis came up with the motto for STOP: “The signs of trouble are not always as clear as the STOP sign on the corner.” “Guns, violence and drugs are some of the reasons why students drop out and lose their way,” said Ellis. “Consistency, commitment, perseverance, persistence, inspiration and encouragement are words these children should have in their vocabulary.”
But Ellis is concentrating on his latest project, which will not only help stop the violence on the streets but also send these young people to college with a scholarship. “If you don’t get a college education, you stay in the lower income bracket,” said Ellis. “Kennedy High School has over a 30 percent dropout rate. Many students in the Bronx think they can’t make the grade or afford college.” Ellis wants to change this mindset and help students make the grade with afterschool tutoring and scholarship opportunities.Ellis created the College Preparedness and Scholarship Program two years ago with a grant from Con Edison. He wanted to put the 19 computers in the basement of St. Stephen’s to good use for students to search online for scholarships. Student teachers from Manhattan College agreed to tutor high school students to meet the grade requirements to enter competitive colleges.
Ellis has had what he calls “some disappointments” getting students to show up and continue with the program. Despite these setbacks, Ellis, determined to continue the program, has recently recruited 5 students from Kennedy High School.
Fifteen year old Ashley Shaw has been with the program for nearly a month. Her goal is to attend Clark University in Georgia after graduation but the Kennedy High sophomore is keeping her options open. “I think this program gives me a better opportunity to look at various colleges and also recognize my strengths,” said Shaw. “I am willing to get help anywhere for a scholarship.”
Triplets Ralph, Robert, and Ryan Bosolet are in the 11th grade and want to attend Brigham Young University in Utah. They listen intently to their mentor who discusses how to put together a portfolio of their writing and how to search for scholarships online. Their father, former PTA President Robert Bosolet Sr., was contacted by Ellis and immediately saw the benefits of the weekly program. “Many parents aren’t committed to sending their children to college so this will give many students the help that they need.”The pastor at St. Stephens, Rev. Nathaniel Dixon, 58, is proud of the positive impact the church has had on the community. Dixon said that the computer classes offered at the church have been a very instructive process. “There is a tremendous digital divide and a lot of people are left behind. This gives them the opportunity to better themselves.”