Gentlemen’s Retreat Prepares Young Men for College Life

Kenneth Chabert brings high schoolers from the Bronx to Rhode Island to explore local food and attractions.

Kenneth Chabert (middle in tan jacket) with students from the Gentlemen’s Retreat. Photograph courtesy of Gentlemen’s Retreat.

Kenneth Chabert cuts a dashing figure. He wears a striped tie and gray blazer with a burgundy lapel flower as he sits with one foot — sporting a cognac leather shoe — resting on his knee, beaming a wide, welcoming smile. He is the definition of a success, running his own consulting business in Providence, but he wanted to do more for others.

Chabert started a nonprofit called the Gentlemen’s Retreat. It takes sixteen students like him — black and Hispanic young men from his alma mater, St. Raymond’s High School in Bronx, New York, who are on the path to college — and brings them to Providence. He teaches them about life in an academic setting by preparing them for the fact that they may not be academically ready. This is something he found out the hard way.

After earning a scholarship to Providence College, Chabert was caught with a gun. He was given youthful offender status and allowed to go to school, but he ran into a new problem there. He had been a great student, but that wasn’t translating to college. He realized the basic inequality that exists between inner city schools and their wealthier counterparts.

“It’s about balancing the duality of that demographic. In the inner city, you have to project an image of toughness to survive,” Chabert says. “I grew up in a great household and my parents cared about my education, but how do you step out of that environment when most of your friends are hanging out in the neighborhood and living up to the stereotypes of the inner city?”

When students like Chabert get to college, they may lack the tools to adjust and succeed that many of their classmates take for granted. “That’s the challenge, until that school says, ‘We accept you,’ ” Chabert says. “That acceptance letter to college is their only way out.”

This summer marks the second part of the first year of the Gentlemen’s Retreat, which is a two-year program. At the first session in November, the gentlemen met with local figures and positive role models such as Providence College men’s basketball coach Ed Cooley, and nationally known scientist, Dr. Sylvester James Gates, who was the keynote speaker. In July, they’ll stay at an Airbnb in Portsmouth, enjoy a night at WaterFire, go on a golfing trip, take a bike tour of the state and feast at some of the best restaurants in Rhode Island, including Mill’s Tavern.

The Gentlemen’s Retreat revolves around courses on emotional, conversational and storytelling intelligence. These are the tools that Chabert used to adjust to life at PC and come to terms with the duality of his life. “I lived the Gentlemen’s Retreat,” says Chabert. “The inner city of Bronx, New York, is a dynamic environment; people live day to day, hour to hour, minute by minute. Everything is done to survive to the next day.”
He pauses and smiles. “Providence was my safe haven.”

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