By Lee Hubbard
It was 1987 in Forsyth County, Georgia, where a civil rights march in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, led by the Reverend Hosea Williams, attracted over 400 Ku Klux Klan members to protest against WIlliams and the Martin Luther King march. The next weekend, Williams would lead another march, where Dr. Amos Brown, the head of Third Baptist Church in San Francisco, and a personal friend of Williams would fly in from San Francisco along with others, to show a sign of solidarity with Rev. WIlliams.
“We went down there to celebrate Dr. King and protest against the Klan,” said Dr. Brown. “After the march, I was talking to Rabbi Robert Kirschner from Temple Emanuel, and he said we need to keep this momentum going back in San Francisco. I said it’s nice to celebrate his birthday, but we have to do more.”
Brown said he immediately thought about education and tutoring as something needed in the black community in San Francisco. He noted that Dr. King was a serious scholar and he wanted to find a way to get black kids “back on track,” academically.
“When we got back to San Francisco, we started a tutoring program that used Third Baptist Church and Temple Emmanuel, to help black and underserved kids in tutoring and mentoring,” continued Brown.
Back on Track is an after-school tutorial program that gives personalized academic assistance to students struggling in school. Through personalized tutoring sessions and small-group instruction, students receive individualized attention and access to educational resources to help them catch up to grade level.
“Back on Track has been a highly successful program,” said Dr. Jonathan Butler, the executive director of Back on Track. “Students are engaged and are motivated to get their learning back on track.”
A holistic approach to learning takes place at Back on Track, according to Butler. Some of the tutorial sessions are one on one and others are in a group setting. They try to focus on students’ weaknesses in particular subjects and to make them strengths. Back on Track takes place on Mondays and Wednesdays. Students from kindergarten to the third grade come from three to five in the afternoon. Students from the fourth grade through high school start from six to eight o’clock in the evening, with dinner being served from five to six.
It has been thirty-six years since Back on Track was founded. Many of the students have gone on to become teachers, lawyers, physicians, social workers and entrepreneurs. Tylisha Berry, a former tutor at Back on Track, and now a Social Work supervisor in the city of San Jose, said that Back on Track provides a safe place for kids to go after school and it helps assist them with their individual needs.
“Students have been able to make lifelong connections,” as a result of “Back on Track,” said Berry. “Tutors have become life mentors. My younger cousin was in the program, and he is still connected to his old tutor. When he went to college, he helped him pack and he has become part of my cousin’s support system.”
“People still connect with their mentors for life,” added Dr. Butler. “We hear this all the time.”
Back on Track has been a success but the tutorial program still needs some help. Tutors are always needed, as there are more students than tutors. Financial support is also needed.
“We want to expand our reach and to provide tutoring to multiple sites across San Francisco, added Butler.
He said that if more finances are available, the program can double the number of youths who have benefitted from the program, which has reached over two thousand people.
“People who have gone through Back on Track have become Lawyers to social workers,” continued Butler. “We have students in the trades, entrepreneurs and teachers. Most importantly they have contributed to their communities, and they have become leaders in civic organizations and their communities.”