OAKLAND — Devareaux Manley's mother does everything she can to keep her son on the academic track. Devareaux, who attends Castlemont's Leadership Preparatory High School, said he doesn't exactly want for encouragement or motivation.
But when he received an African American Honor Roll certificate, it caused him to step back and think about what he had accomplished, he said, and where he was headed.
"It felt pretty good to be honored for doing hard work and keeping up my good grades," said Devareaux, 15. "It feels good to get acknowledged."
Devareaux was one of some 1,100 African-American Oakland public school students in grades 8 through 12 who were honored Monday evening for earning a B average or above. It was the seventh consecutive year the Oakland school district's African American Education Task Force has organized the event, held at the spacious Acts Full Gospel Church in East Oakland.
Wandra Boyd, the task force's co-leader, said African-American youth tend to be recognized more for their athletic and music talents, for example, than their book smarts. Conversations and news articles about black youth and academics, she said, often focus on the failures, the disciplinary problems and the often-mentioned "achievement gap."
Boyd, a longtime advocate for African-American students and their parents, is not one to hide systemic problems. She is quick to point out inequitable suspension rates, staggering dropout rates
But, she said, there is a story too often left untold: Many black students are succeeding academically.
"It's very good for our African-American community and our community as a whole to know that we have quite a few students who are excelling," Boyd said.
Terri Cooper, Devareaux's mother, said she believes such events make academic success "more tangible" for students, as if to say: "Not only do my parents believe in me, but my community believes in me."
"As African-American children, there's a lot of obstacles and things that they can be confronted with," Cooper said. "As a parent, we have to think of different ways to keep them motivated to reach for the stars."
Deontae Layne believes in his older brother, Donald, 15, who was one of the honorees. On the way to the event, Deontae showed Donald — a BEST High School ninth-grader — a short essay he had written about him. "He's a really good role model. He really is," said Deontae, 14.
When Deontae started losing his academic focus, he said, his big brother started helping him with homework and spending more time with him. "To tell you the truth, my life was going to the streets," Deontae said.
Donald said he considers himself a strong student as well as a good basketball player. He said he would work hard, no matter what, but that the prospect of making the African American Honor Roll for the second straight year remained in the back of his mind. Now, he has his brother to think about, too.
"I'm really honored, and I just found out that I inspired my younger brother to work hard also," he said.
Also on Monday night, the Hispanic Heritage Foundation honored promising young scholars at a ceremony at Stanford University. Two Oakland students -- Mira De Avila-Shin of Oakland Technical High School and Jessica Tabares of Fremont Federation's Media Academy -- were among 21 to receive awards in various academic areas.