As a 15 year old growing up in Montgomery Alabama in 1955, Paul
Adams III was transformed by a career day
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I was so impressed that someone with so many accolades was
here with us in Montgomery giving back to our community,” reflects Adams. “I
remember thinking, ‘If I’m going to give my life to something, it’s going to be
Since 1971, that “something” has been Providence St. Mel School
in Chicago’s troubled west side.
For over 30 years now, every single graduate of the private
school has been accepted into college.
President Ronald Reagan visited the school.
Winfrey publicly praises Adams’ work.
And now Adams’ story has been made into the uplifting
documentary, “The Providence Effect” that will have its Atlanta premiere Friday
night at the AMC Theatre at North DeKalb Mall.
Adams and Providence principal Jeanette DiBella will be at the North DeKalb AMC to conduct a Q&A after the 7 p.m. screenings here Friday and Saturday.
The documentary takes you inside the not-for-profit private
school that most students attend via scholarship funding from donors devoted to
the institution’s work.
At Providence St. Mel, first graders not only know what a
cardigan is but how to spell the word. Second graders engage in lively debates
about the sociological implications of the Hurricane Katrina clean up and a
pair of devoted Providence St. Mel math teachers may give you uncomfortable
flashbacks to high school.
Adams says the documentary crews cameras didn’t disrupt
classes during filming in 2007.
“The students were too worried about their grades to worry
about a cameraman shooting,” cracks Adams.
Indeed, the intensity of a typical school day at Providence
St. Mel is a daunting proposition.
Adams says he would love to see Providence’s successful business
model adopted nationally.
“We have merit pay here,” he explains. “If you do a better
job, you will make more money. Why should a teacher who is knocking himself or
herself out work next door to a teacher doing nothing but making the same pay?
Merit pay works on Wall Street and it works here on Chicago’s west side.”
Adams fears without education reform, the country is “headed
for third world status quickly.”
As examples, he holds up Barack and Michelle Obama, both products of private Chicago schools.
“Barack could not have gotten to the White House from a
Chicago public school house,” Adams contends. “They were both products of
While “The Providence Effect” has been in release since last
fall, Adams worries that the people who need to see the documentary the most
can’t afford the price of a ticket.
“I’m grateful for the audiences who are coming but we’re
preaching to the choir with them,” he explains. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able
to get this film out to the people who won’t come to see it in a theatre. It’s
not a flashy film. We don’t have people jumping off cliffs. We’re not ‘Avatar.’
We just have a simple message: ‘Education must be a cornerstone of our society
or we let poverty win.’”