Devin Boone doesn’t necessarily have the grades for college, just the desire.

But that will get him in the door of historically black Florida Memorial University this fall.

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Under a partnership between Miami-based FMU and Boone’s soon-to-be-alma mater, South Gwinnett High School, the university guarantees admission to young black males from the Snellville high school, regardless of their grades or SAT scores.

It’s the newest of two initiatives in Gwinnett, the state’s largest school system, aimed at improving the academic prospects of young black males.

The other is a mentoring program that pairs adult males with middle school students. The interaction has been a life-saver for Jamar Tindall, says his mother, Capricia Kegler of Suwanee.

“If it wasn’t for this program, I don’t know what I would have done,” Kegler said. “It’s turned around his attitude about life and his grades.”

The academic struggles of young black men have been well-documented. In 2010, three high-profile national research studies found that less than half of black male students graduate from high school in four years. Black male students are three times more likely than their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to the studies.

The college program

Teresa Wilburn, director of the college and career center at South Gwinnett High School, said Boone and nine other SGH seniors have been accepted to Florida Memorial for the fall.

All had recommendations from a teacher, counselor or community leader and had written essays on topics such as leadership, character, motivation and tenacity.

For some, who are what Wilburn calls “late bloomers,” the guaranteed acceptance provides “a second change to go to college.”

“They are very talented and smart. Just for whatever reason, in their freshman or sophomore year, they were having a tough time,” Wilburn said.

Boone and classmates Philip Love and Brandon Dacres are enthusiastic about their prospects at Florida Memorial.

Love, who played football at South Gwinnett for four years, had been thinking of going straight into the Army until he heard of the “good opportunity” the school offered. He hopes to major in business.

But college had been a childhood dream for Boone and a long-time expectation for Dacres.

“I goofed off like every freshman, but I got my act together,” Dacres said. “I realized college was what I wanted. This year, I made the honor roll.”