Each year, Lewis Cass Technical High School, a public magnet school in Detroit that is 95 percent black, sends dozens of its brightest students to the University. Many of them come with plans to become doctors, lawyers, engineers. At the University, most of these students experience being in the minority in the classroom for the first time. Here’s a look at two of them – one at the beginning of his college years and another on the verge of stepping into the professional world.
On his way in
Incoming freshman Michael Hall has a bold dream – he wants to transform his home town into a city of architectural glamor.
Hall plans to study structural architecture with a background in civil engineering. He then hopes to get a job in an architectural firm where he can work to revitalize Detroit.
Hall is one of almost 40 students from Cass Tech who will arrive on campus next fall.
As an officer in the National Honor Society, captain of the track team and president of the Southfield Kappa League, a youth scholarship program within the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, he stands out among his classmates. No one can say he lacks motivation.
Hall juggles his extracurricular activities with a rigorous academic schedule, which includes two Advanced Placement courses and engineering and science classes. Hall boasts a 3.6 GPA and a 23 on the ACT.
“My environment is kind of a motivation,” Hall said. “When I look around (Detroit), I’m not pleased with what I see.”
On a typical day, Hall wakes up at 6 a.m. and rides a Detroit public bus for 30 minutes to get to school. Because of a lack of funding, Cass does not provide transportation, forcing students to use the public bus system or get rides from parents or friends.
After track practice, Hall boards the public bus to return home, often arriving at 6 p.m. Although his schedule is overwhelming at times, Hall said it has made him more disciplined.
“What I learn from track is what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Hall said. “You perform best when you have nothing left.”
Hall’s teachers attested to his strong work ethic and determination.
“He’s not afraid to go for what he needs to get,” AP Calculus teacher Robert Williams said. “If he’s supposed to know something, he’s not afraid to ask the question to know.”
Although Hall grew up in Detroit, he said he looks forward to a change next fall.
“As much as I love Detroit, I want to leave,” he said. “I want to help myself so I can help my community.”
Apart from focusing on his career goals, Hall hopes to dispel negative myths about Detroit.
“We work hard, we’re well-educated, strive for the highest, try to achieve excellence. I would try to bring that kind of attitude to the University of Michigan,” he said.
Despite high hopes for his collegiate years, Hall said he has heard rumors that the campus climate is not welcoming to minorities.
People have warned him that he might be verbally abused or that he may encounter racism.
“I’m not saying it’s not true, but I don’t see the University of Michigan having that type of atmosphere,” he said.
True or not, he says he won’t let racial tensions to distract him from his dreams.
“Words are not going to affect me in achieving my goals,” he said.
On his way out
Engineering senior Alfred Davis had a choice to make after graduating from middle school: He could walk a block to Ecorse High School or get up early every day for the 45-minute ride to Cass Tech.
Davis took the latter option. Every day of his high school career, he spent 90 minutes on I-75.
“It was not fun,” Davis said, laughing.
Born in Detroit but raised in Ecorse, a suburb southwest of Detroit, Davis said his mother did not like the Ecorse public school’s curriculum and decided to have him go to school in Detroit after he completed third grade.
Because it requires in-city residency for enrollment, Davis filled out a relative’s address when he transferred to the Foreign Language Immersion Cultural School in fourth grade to take Spanish.
He then moved on to Hutchins Middle School and eventually did well enough on a citywide entrance exam to continue his education at the competitive high school.
He graduated summa cum laude with a GPA of 3.8 and entered the University that fall, following his childhood dream to design video games by pursuing a computer science degree.
Davis, who now plans to pursue business administration because he doesn’t want to code for the rest of his life, said he chose the University because he had always wanted to come here.
Coming from a high school that is 95 percent black, Davis experienced a bit of uneasiness during his first few months at the University – partly because there were only two other black students living in his hall in South Quadrangle Residence Hall. Yet Davis, who is black, said he did not find it difficult to adjust to the University’s campus, which is mostly white.
“It wasn’t easy or hard,” Davis said, “I’m colorblind in a sense. We have different cultures and different backgrounds, and that’s what makes us unique.”
He said that although he never felt intimidated, he did sometimes feel uncomfortable in class.
“At times I feel an interesting feeling when I go to class and I am the only black person,” Davis said.
Still, Davis said because he was brought up in a Christian home, he is able to look past skin color. As a pastor’s son, Davis said he believes that there is no race in Christianity.
He said although he would not mind going back to Detroit after graduation, he plans to leave Michigan in search of a warmer climate.
The past few years in Ann Arbor have exposed him to a life that he never experienced before, he said, and he wants to explore more outside of Detroit.
“College is unlike any other educational venue a student experiences – exposure to different cultures, ideals, food, people, et cetera,” he said. “Once you’re done, you crave more.”