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Math professor Jeff Fleming instructs in a Saturday morning class held at Georgetown University.
McCoy, who graduated from the program in 2001, attributes her interest in air- and water-quality issues to an environmental science class Bullock offered one summer. “I was set on working in emergency medicine as a physician,” she says. “But that one summer class allowed me to see that there are many career options. Instantly, I was drawn to environmental issues and never looked back.”
LaToya Walker, a math major at Coppin State University in Baltimore, graduated from the program in 2005. She says going every Saturday helped her in school. “[Math professor] Jeff Fleming helped with my hard level math courses. I could bring my homework in to get help,” she recalls. “I'm good at math. I kind of always knew what I wanted to be. But Mr. Bullock and Dr. Fleming helped me realize that I wanted to be it more. They said, 'you can do this.'” Her goal is to teach 7th-grade math.
Both Bullock and Brown-McKenzie grew up in places where few people pursued higher degrees, and neither has forgotten those beginnings, even as they excelled in their own education and careers.
Bullock, whose parents taught in D.C. public schools, graduated from an inner-city Catholic high school, attended the District's Howard University, and then transferred to Xavier University in New Orleans, where he studied physics. He returned to D.C. as an engineer, but he taught at D.C. Catholic schools on the side. Teaching gradually became his focus and, in 1992, he joined Georgetown to teach mathematics in the Saturday precollege program, becoming director in 1993 of what was eventually renamed the Georgetown Institute of College Preparation.
Bullock soon realized there were huge physical, socioeconomic, and racial divisions between Georgetown's sophisticated milieu and these children's crime-heavy neighborhoods and often single-parent homes. “We came to Georgetown not even knowing that it was a part of D.C.,” says Cauley. “We were convinced it was in Virginia, because we had never seen anything in the city that was this beautiful and well-maintained.”
Sustaining such an arduous program would clearly require more emotional support than Bullock could provide alone. So in 1999 he hired Charlene Brown-McKenzie, a D.C. social worker and Georgetown University alumna. An immigrant from Jamaica, she had some of the same experiences as the students in the program, including having attended a precollege Upward Bound program as a high school student in Bridgeport, Connecticut.
Bullock and Brown-McKenzie go above and beyond. They take students to get haircuts before college interviews, help move freshmen into their dorms, attend basketball games and weddings, and ferry students who don't have a ride to campus.
“We came to Georgetown expecting them to help us with precollege stuff,” says Cauley, “but Tom became like a dad and Charlene became like a mom. If you didn't come for a couple weeks, you would get that phone call, asking 'What's going on in this child's life. What can I do to fix it?'”
Brown-McKenzie is now running the precollege program, as Bullock phases out of his central role to become more broadly involved with D.C. education. He is director of civic engagement for D.C. Education Compact, a community partnership committed to ensuring that District schools educate all District children. He is also the assistant to the president of Georgetown for D.C. Education Initiatives.
Both program leaders continue to pull together the dozens of parents, hire teachers, and enlist volunteers who make the program run. And both have a knack for seizing any opportunity; Bullock recruited the program's math professor, Jeff Fleming, a young African-American with a Ph.D. in mathematics, after striking up a conversation at choir practice.
Photo: Hector Emanuel