Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) _ Joshua Thompson is part of Madonna University’s incoming freshman class, but he and 24 other at-risk black males from Detroit schools will experience college and its challenges beginning with a special seven-week summer program.

The program is part of Madonna’s Bridging Lost Gaps and begins Sunday.

It prepares inner city high school graduates for the academic rigors and culture change that will greet them at the mostly white, Catholic university west of Detroit in Livonia. Of the 4,382 Madonna undergraduates in 2012, 14 percent were black.

“It’s a small school and more Caucasian than black, but diversity is a good thing,” said Thompson, an 18-year-old graduate of Henry Ford Academy for Creative Studies.

Students like Thompson are identified by their high school counselors, teachers and principals and then recruited by Bryant George, the program’s 25-year-old founder and director.

“I ask them: `What is real life to you and how are you going to succeed?” George said. “Nine out of 10 can’t answer.”

Those accepted into Bridging Lost Gaps receive scholarship awards of $3,000 a year. Freshmen have dorm room fees waived their first year.

About half the Bridging Lost Gaps students also are involved in Madonna’s Real Life 101 mentoring and academic support program. They receive $1,000 for up to five years and a laptop.

All students are mentored by Madonna faculty and staff.

George said the McGregor Fund foundation has given a $150,000 grant for the summer programming and next year’s recruitment.

Bridging Lost Gaps is in its third year and includes six Madonna juniors and 11 sophomores. So far, the retention rate is 100 percent.

“This results from the extensive mentoring program established by Bryant in collaboration with faculty and staff at Madonna University,” said Michael O. Kenney, Madonna’s vice president for planning and enrollment. “And of course, the students deserve credit for working diligently and investing in this rigorous, comprehensive approach.”

Too many young black men never make it out of bad neighborhoods or other negative environments, George said. Federal statistics have shown that 1 in 3 black males could go to prison at some point in the lives.

George graduated from Northwestern High School in Detroit and in 2010 from Madonna with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He sees Bridging Lost Gaps as a pipeline between the city and Madonna.

“The majority of my childhood peers are incarcerated, deceased or stuck in life,” he said. “This is investing in education, not incarceration.

But college can be intimidating, especially for students who aren’t prepared to compete academically.

“College wasn’t the big talk in my family and I was scared,” George said. “I graduated from Northwestern with a 2.8 grade point average and I got 14 on my ACT. At Madonna, I was in classes with kids that were homeschooled with 4.0 GPAs.”

During the summer program, Thompson and the other freshmen will take introduction to English and math, and computer literacy _ courses many struggle with on the college levels.

“They initially are scared of college writing and mathematically they are far behind,” George said of some incoming students. “I want to build a confidence (during the summer program) that once the real world starts they have an opportunity to compete with any student.”

Thompson is going in with confidence, but will take all of the help that’s offered.

“I’m expecting to get through college without a problem,” he said. “Math always came easy. But I did mediocre in the other classes.”