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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Scholar

Posse student Reuben Buchanan (CFA’12) finds a “second home” in the studio


Posse Scholar Reuben Buchanan spends many hours painting and drawing in this studio at the College of Fine Arts. Photo by Caleb Daniloff

Freshman Reuben Buchanan spends so much time in Room 305 at the College of Fine Arts, he might just start receiving his mail there.

“This place is like a second home, because of all the late nights I’m here, painting and drawing,” says Buchanan (CFA’12), adjusting his Atlanta Braves ball cap. “You paint for three hours in class, and then you find yourself painting three more hours on your own. But already, I’ve seen BU improve my skills. Sometimes art teachers change your style, but I’ve found that BU takes whatever your style is and helps you make it better.”

Buchanan, an Atlanta-area native, is one of 12 Posse Scholars on campus this year. The Posse Foundation is a national nonprofit program that recruits and trains groups of talented, leadership-oriented urban youth, usually from public schools, for life on elite college and university campuses around the country. The idea is to better represent the nation’s diverse demographics and grow the next generation of city leaders.

“What Posse is doing is giving opportunities to students who under traditional admissions processes would be overlooked,” says Jeffrey Allen, a School of Management assistant professor of information systems and mentor to this year’s Posse students. “The schools where many Posse kids come from, because they’re inner-city high schools, might not be on the radar screens of major universities. These are good kids. They aren’t academically inept by any means. My picture of a Posse scholar is the little dog with the big heart. You may be able to measure the size of the dog, but you’ll never be able to measure the amount of fight in the dog.”

Buchanan, the son of a social worker and a middle school art teacher, is soft-spoken, with a quiet confidence and an easy laugh. He attended the predominantly African-American Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Ga., southwest of Atlanta, where he graduated with a 3.5 GPA and “pretty average” test scores. Math was a struggle, he says.

But throughout high school, Buchanan interned as a graphic artist at VOX Teen Newspaper, designing covers for the publication, which is distributed in Atlanta-area schools. That, combined with his success in several art contests, caught the attention of the Posse Atlanta selection committee last year. Buchanan’s most recent juried art win was in U.S. Representative John Lewis’ 5th Congressional District Arts Competition. His mixed media self-portrait, called My December, hangs in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C.

Shaping a new kind of leader

The almost two-decade-old Posse Foundation has so far placed 2,200 students at 32 partner schools, representing almost $220 million in scholarships. This is BU’s first year participating in the program; currently the University is selecting next year’s group. By 2020, the goal of the foundation is to recruit 1,000 scholars a year from 10 cities to attend 80 colleges and universities, according to Posse founder and president Deborah Bial. And like the scholars she promotes, Bial sees beyond the college diploma.

“Posse is working to create a brand-new kind of network of professional leaders unlike anything this country has ever seen in its history,” says Bial, who received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant last year for her work with Posse. “It won’t be a good-old-boys network. It won’t be a network from the Greek system. It will be a network of powerful young people who were selected initially because of their leadership potential and who will be out there as lawyers and doctors and politicians and who will better represent the demographics of this nation.”

Posse has an impressive college graduation rate — 90 percent, significantly higher than the national average. Bial says that around 30 percent of alumni have gone into education, 30 to 40 percent have entered the corporate world, and some 45 percent hold an advanced degree or currently attend grad school.

“Posse is not a program based on the deficiencies of the population with which it works,” she says. “It’s a strength-based model that’s focused on identifying unbelievable talent, mostly in the public schools in the big urban centers. People don’t always remember that. As soon as they meet our students, it’s clear.”

The Posse scholars arrive on campus in groups, or posses, so they can lean on one another in what, for many, can be a racially and culturally isolating environment. “To me, it’s obvious,” says Allen. “If you’re around BU and you don’t see that there is a problem in terms of minority students, particularly black students here, I’d have to say you’re walking around with blinders on.” (According to the University, approximately 2.9 percent of the undergraduate population is African-American.)

Buchanan’s third-floor studio at CFA is filled with easels, canvas-stuffed cubbies, and paint-spattered desks that would make Jackson Pollock proud. Like other Posse scholars at BU, he’s considering a dual major — in graphic design and painting — although the increased demands of a college curriculum are still taking some getting used to. “The workload is pretty good,” he says. “My writing class is rigorous. Painting and drawing is rigorous. It moves quickly."

This is where the Posse training comes in. The group spent months together covering a host of collegiate topics, from writing workshops to time management skills to cross-cultural communication, before setting foot on Comm Ave.

“One of the things that Posse did for me, and for all of us, was to make us comfortable talking to people who may or may not have common interests,” Buchanan says. “Especially when we first got here and we didn’t know anybody. Gradually, we’ve started to branch off and make other friends, but we’ve kept our Posse bonds and actually expanded the network. I’ve seen this happen — that our new friends, in turn, become friends of the whole posse.”

To reinforce their bond, the group meets with Allen once a week.

“Sometimes the meetings are about business and schoolwork,” Buchanan says. “Other times, it’s just a time for us to get together and reconnect, since we’re all really busy.”

Georgia native Allen has become a father figure of sorts for the group and has already placed a framed photo of the Atlanta dozen on his office desk next to those of his own children.

“What I really love about the kids is they appreciate this incredible opportunity they’ve been given,” Allen says, “and they’re not going to let it go by the wayside and meander through the process.”

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.


One Comment on Portrait of the Artist as a Young Scholar

  • Anonymous on 11.05.2008 at 12:46 pm

    Reuben has an incredible amount of talent and always pushes himself to do better. He’s the best! I’m proud of him!

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