Despite the recent controversy surrounding the leadership of Imani Christian Academy, hundreds came out to show their support for the school at the Tenth Annual Benefit Gala held at Heinz Field on Sept. 8.

Imani is a religious-affiliated K-12 school serving African-American students from the inner city. Proceeds from the annual gala are put toward the school’s annual $2 million operating budget and ensuring tuition rates are kept low for parents and families. In the past, funds raised at the gala have enabled Imani to achieve goals such as a new library, increased teacher salaries, field trips, and scholarships for students.

IMANI SCHOLARS—Not in order: Barrington Ratliff, Onyah Sheely, Leonard McAllister and Naim Baskin. (Photo by Erin Perry)

Earlier this year the academy’s leadership was fractured when members of its board of directors, including the school’s founder Bishop Donald Clay of Petra International Ministries and Headmaster Milton Raiford were ousted.

“It was important in the transition, the board felt it was very important, to maintain the spirituality of the school,” said Bishop David Brock of Right Connection Covenant Fellowship International, who was a former member of Petra.

While the incident saw the exodus of some teachers and students, this controversy seems to have done little to shake up the school’s substantial support base or the success of its students.

“I have children who went to this school. I was a former teacher at this school. I believe in the vision of this school regardless of who’s sitting in the boardroom,” Brock said. “I’m here for the good of the children.”

Proof of Imani’s positive impact could be felt in the words of the students who spoke at this year’s gala and mingled with guests.

“At my previous school, it was more like a rec center than a school. Some days the teachers would talk and the students would throw things. It was so distracting,” said ninth grader Naim Baskin. “The teachers here manage their classroom better because they care. I feel so much closer to God here. I love it here at Imani and I hope to graduate.”

Of the 30 students in last year’s graduating class, 24 were accepted into two or four year college programs. Three planned to pursue vocational training and one planned to enter the military.

These graduates received scholarship offers totaling nearly $370,000. Imani’s other achievements include an increase in the overall average for SAT scores by 30 percent over the last five years and a competitive football program.

“Imani is a safe haven. Imani is our school, our church, our home,” said 12th grade student Aaryn Smith, who plans to study psychology and law in college.

Eighth grader Leonard McAllister illustrated the components that make Imani different from other schools in the area. He said school counselors have been known to take students shopping for prom clothes, and provide students with transportation if they are unable to make it to school, or even if they are stranded somewhere at night.

“Imani is truly a family,” McAllister said. “Does this sound different than any other school?”

The cost of educating students at Imani according to materials released by the school is $12,000 per student, per year. In the Pittsburgh Public School District, this cost is approximately $20,000 per student, per year.

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