"In Chicago you're seeing the perfect storm of all the negatives, all the ills that are happening to young black men in America. You're seeing a 37 percent graduation rate…what you're seeing among young black men is close to 70 or 80 percent unemployment rate," said Phillip Jackson, founder and executive director of the Black Star Project that provides educational services to Chicago-area students.
But two months ago something changed -- something that inspired me: hope.
Recently at the Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, there was an unprecedented and surprise celebration announcing that the entire -- yes, entire -- senior class of 107 young men had been accepted to four-year colleges.
It was a mission accomplished by education entrepreneur Tim King.
"You have to have a culture in which students feel welcomed, that they feel challenged, they feel like there are high expectations, and that there are ways to meet those expectations," King told me.
King sets a high bar for his students. There is a heavy math and science course load, an emphasis on studying a foreign language plus two periods of English every day.
But King says the key to success is creating a culture that is "positive and supportive." The students say King is an inspiration to the young men.
"I don't think I've ever met a person like him that works so hard, extremely hard, to get us on track," junior Quincy Cain said.
"To me he's just phenomenal," Cain said.
The students attend class from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. King said that after a while you get used to it and "you just suck it up."
The young men also receive constant mentorship and spend more than an hour a day with a personal leader.
"I think I'm being taught to be more of a responsible young man and to be more respectful to my elders and things like that," Freshman Tarron Lones told me.
Lones' mother fought and begged to send her son to school at Urban Prep Academy.
"I feel that Mr. King and his vision has opened doors to our young African American males…this is beyond what I can teach at home and his vision means the world to us," Tarron Lones' mother, Alissia Delaney, said.
As I walked through the halls it was not hard to be reminded of what struggles remain outside.
Senior Ahmad Wright told me that his father is in jail, but says he has other plans for himself.
"They're letting us know that there is a life beyond high school and it's college, and without college it's a slim chance of success," Wright said.
College is on the minds of these young men from the start. They even spend summers at universities such as Georgetown and Oxford.
As I was interviewing King, senior Tyler Beck, who I believe has a future as a news anchor, had a suggested question for the president and CEO of the school.
"What can be done to help those other areas besides Chicago," Beck asked.
"I hope that part of what we're doing here in addition to educating the men at Urban Prep is also serving as an example to folks around the country for what can be done," King replied.
King said he is touched when the young men tell him how different their lives would be without the school.