This Predominantly Black All Girls’ School Made History With 100% College Acceptance At First Graduation

by Gee NY
BELA senior Sinmiloluwa Afolabi is attending NYU in the fall to study biology with the hopes of studying and working in infectious diseases. (Photo by Sarah Belle Lin)

The Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy (BELA), an all-girls charter school in New York, celebrated a momentous achievement in 2021: every student in its first graduating class was accepted to college.

This milestone includes all 50 graduating seniors, marking an impressive 100% college acceptance rate.

BELA, located in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, focuses on educating girls from underserved and marginalized communities.

Over 90% of the students at BELA identify as Black, highlighting the school’s commitment to supporting young women of color.

In honor of this accomplishment, BELA hosted a “college shower” event, where the graduates received college gear such as duffel bags, dorm supplies, and headphones.

Nicia Fullwood, the co-founder and director of BELA, addressed the seniors during the celebration:

Today, you are rewriting history and contributing to the legacy of District 16 of Bedford-Stuyvesant. We’ve always said that you all were destined for greatness; that you’d change the world in ways we could never imagine. Despite your non-traditional senior year, today, we celebrate all of you.”

The Brooklyn Emerging Leaders Academy held an event to prepare 50 graduating seniors for college. (Sarah Belle Lin)

BELA’s mission is to “empower each young woman to be the best version of herself,” built on four core values: Sisterhood, Scholarship, Strength, and Service.

The class of 2021 is the first to graduate from this pioneering institution, the only all-girls school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area.

Since its opening in 2017, BELA has stood out as a unique model for college preparatory education. Each school day begins with a Sisterhood Circle, a communal gathering to discuss their purpose and redefine the narrative for Black and Brown young women in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Ms. Fullwood, who co-founded BELA with Shannon Riley, underscores the importance of this practice in fostering community and empowerment.

The senior class, with 75% of students being the first in their families to attend college, applied to over 150 colleges and universities nationwide. Collectively, they have been awarded nearly $1 million in scholarships.

Nyasia Bailey, the class valedictorian, said at the time she plans to study journalism at Sarah Lawrence College.

“As a Black woman, it just feels like we’re really overlooked. Through writing and film, I want to be able to tell our stories and share what we’re going through, because some people just don’t want to hear it from us,” said Bailey.

In her valedictorian speech, Bailey inspired her classmates and highlighted their collective strength.

“We are forces to be reckoned with. I see all my sisters’ strengths shine through and I’m excited to see us run the world in the near future, together!”

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