Super Sunday brings college to churches for 10th year

For the past 10 years, on Sundays in February, pastors at historically African American churches across the state have ceded their pulpits for a discussion of a topic more secular than spiritual: higher education.

President Les Wong stands behind a podium and looks out at the congregation at Providence Baptist Church.

President Les Wong spoke at Providence Baptist Church about educational opportunities and SF State's planned expansion into the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood.

This event, called "Super Sunday," is a program of the CSU African American Initiative, a partnership between California State University campuses and African American community leaders with the goal of increasing college attendance among African American students. Since starting with 24 churches in 2006, the 23 CSU campuses have increased their reach to more than 100 churches and 100,000 churchgoers statewide.

At SF State's Super Sunday events on Feb. 8, University leaders addressed four local congregations and additional guests about the importance of planning for and enrolling in college. President Les Wong and Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro spoke to an enthusiastic congregation -- undaunted by heavy rain -- at Providence Baptist Church.

"In today's booming high-tech economy, higher education has replaced a high-school diploma as the gateway to a better life," Wong said. "I am here to share with you that the CSU's commitment is stronger than ever to motivate and encourage African American students to prepare for college and obtain a university degree."

President Les Wong discusses requirements for attending SF State with a congregant at Providence Baptist Church, as he presents her some brochures about CSU educational opportunities.

After the service, President Les Wong discussed requirements for attending SF State with congregants.

Providence Baptist Church and its pastor, Reverend Calvin Jones, Jr., have hosted Super Sunday since its inaugural year. Talking about higher education in church, Jones said, is a natural fit. "There is scripture in the New Testament that talks about education and training your mind," Jones explained. "When we get a trained mind, God will use that mind to help us."

Jones also believes the annual event has helped make college seem more accessible to his congregation. "There's always one or two family members who are surprised to learn that their kid has the chance to go to college -- they don't think they have the money or that their kid has the grades," he said.

SF State graduate student Tachelle Herron-Lane recalls a dramatic change in her life after connecting with CSU representatives at a Super Sunday event years ago. "When I saw educated people come in and speak about college, I thought, 'I could do that too,'" Herron-Lane said. "If you look at my transcript that's exactly what you'll see: I had F's and D's, but after that, I had A's and B's. Super Sunday changed my life."

Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro points to the side as he addresses congregants at Providence Baptist Church, with clergy members sitting behind him.

Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro addressed congregants at Providence Baptist Church at the Super Sunday event on Feb. 8.

On the rainy Sunday morning at Providence Baptist Church, student volunteers talked SAT scores and financial aid with congregants as they arrived for service. "I love promoting higher education, especially with students who come from low-income and minority backgrounds," said senior Dora Owuor, a communication studies major, adding with a smile, "It's worth the early-morning wake-up."

"It's good to come to a community setting so people can see there is community support as they prepare for college," said Kristen Reaves, a junior studying health education.

In many cases, congregants who approached with questions were older relatives seeking to learn more about the road to college on behalf of children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews.

"When you come to a church or a community-based institution, you need to think about the family and social structures," explained Monteiro, who organizes SF State's Super Sunday events. "What 5-year-old knows what to ask about college? The people you are talking to are those who have the maturity to know what questions to ask -- even if they didn't go to college themselves. They are the guideposts."

In his speech, Wong also discussed SF State's plans to expand its campus to the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood, where Providence Baptist is located, receiving thunderous applause and numerous exclamations of "Amen!"

This topic was also explored on Feb. 5, when pastors and community leaders convened at SF State in advance of Super Sunday to discuss outreach strategies for the African American community. Wong emphasized that such preliminary meetings will be vital as plans for the Bayview-Hunters Point campus move forward.

"The most important thing is to understand what the community wants us to do," Wong said. "The huge perceived distance between our campus and Hunters Point is getting smaller and smaller."


Additional Super Sunday and related events will take place later this month. On Sunday, Feb. 22, Vice President for University Advancement Robert J. Nava will speak at Third Baptist Church (1399 McAllister St.). Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro will speak at the African American Honor Roll Celebration, which honors exceptional African American San Francisco Unified School District students, on Wednesday, Feb. 25, at St. Mary's Cathedral (1111 Gough St.).

On Feb. 8, in addition to the event at Providence Baptist Church, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Sue Rosser spoke at Ingleside Presbyterian Church and Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management Luoluo Hong spoke to congregants from Bell Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal and Grace Tabernacle Community churches at City College's Southeast Community Facility.


--Beth Tagawa