“Eighty percent of the teachers in this country are white women, and they’re teaching black kids,” Rosa Higgs told students at Oak Park and River Forest High School last Wednesday. “There are very few black men and women in education. The numbers are getting smaller, so we need you in there.”

This coaching from a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher was a big part of the mentoring that students got during OPRF High School’s 10th annual Black Professional Day.

The day’s keynote speaker, Bernard Kendrick, a sales representative for pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, talked to students about their futures.

“Whatever your aspirations are, the sky is the limit,” he said in his introduction. “Now is the time where you determine who you want to be for yourself and those who you will meet along life’s travels.”

He used statistics that he told students they had to avoid becoming a part of. According to Kendrick, only 57 percent of blacks graduate from high school, only 20 percent of black high school graduates are properly prepared for college, and only 2 percent of college level athletes go on to become professional athletes.

“These statistics that I’ve given you have everything to do with what you do here from the time that you are a freshman up to a senior. Be made into something here, while you have so many resources at your disposal,” said Kendrick, who also owns a company that makes products for golfing.

More than 100 students gathered in the school’s library to attend presentations by and speak one-on-one with a group that included entrepreneurs, lawyers and visual artists.

“I believe that the significance of Black Professional Day for the high school is an opportunity to show students the infinite possibilities that they can be afforded through education,” said Principal Nathaniel Rouse.

About 28 percent of OPRF students are black, many of them having moved to the Near West suburbs from less privileged areas of Chicago. For them, this, Rouse said, greatly improves their chances to achieve career success.

OPRF students were listening.

“I learned that, if you just stick to your goals, you can succeed in what you want to achieve,” said Shurea Clark, who said she wants to become an early childhood educator.

Sophomore Elijah Osagboro, who’s interested in graphic arts and automotive technology, said, “It was really inspiring seeing people of my own color who went to the same school as me, that have gone on to do great things.”