“This year’s million dollar prize for the Yass award goes to Valiant Cross Academy.”
Those words, spoken by Janine Yass at the December 2023 Yass Prize Celebration, set off a whirlwind for Anthony Brock. He and his brother Frederick founded Valiant Cross, an all‐male school in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2015; Anthony serves as Head of School while Frederick is Director of Operations.
The pair come from a long line of educators. Anthony was a teacher, tutor, mentor, assistant principal, and then principal in a county that borders Montgomery. But he knew he needed to get back to Montgomery. “It’s the birthplace of the civil rights movement. It’s also known as the cradle of the Confederacy,” he said. “There’s so much change happening right here in Montgomery. Right now we have 200,000 residents, and we’re averaging about 70 homicides a year. And most of those are African American males. And so, Fred and I were plagued. We were burdened. We were called. We definitely feel called by God to come back to this city, to impact young men.”
Anthony says he realized in college that not everybody had the solid foundation at home that he had, so he set out to help change that. “I really never believed in an achievement gap. I always thought it was an opportunity gap and an exposure gap. You know, it’s a belief gap,” he explained. “So we came back and in 2015 we founded Valiant Cross Academy. We started by walking the neighborhood. All we had was a flyer, and we convinced 30 families to try us out that first year.”
The school began with sixth grade and added a grade each year. There have now been two graduating classes, so they’re seeing the fruits of their efforts.
“By the 11th grade, we’re placing all of our young men on a track to either go to a vocational school, start doing dual enrollment with two local colleges, or to learn a trade,” Anthony said. “Right now we have barbering and we also have a Cisco networking component where they can get their programming and networking credentials in Cisco networking. And we also have the Red Tail Scholarship program partnership, so our young men can also work on their pilot’s license.”
Valiant Cross has a somewhat traditional curriculum that is mastery based and aligned with the Alabama College and Career Readiness Standards. But there are many unique facets of the school. Language arts and social science are integrated with science and math to engage and motivate students. There’s also a lot of music woven throughout. The school day starts with morning village, which is when all the young men will go into the church to pray, have a quick talk, and do their affirmations.
Anthony explained that they also supplement the curriculum with a lot of extras. “We believe that we need to teach them about their history. And that mainly comes in celebrations of who they are. So you can see it reflected in the artwork in the building and the decorations in the classrooms. Specifically, a lot of African American men that have come throughout history, who have made contributions to society, that’s the big focus. We believe that they need to see it to realize and believe that they can really achieve those things.”
“One of our first 30 scholars was actually lost to crime. He was a homicide victim near Montgomery,” Anthony said in explaining the life or death nature of their work. He thinks the boys need more men in their lives. “So what we’ve done is provide layer upon layer of protection, mentoring, and love on these young men. A lot of people that hold them accountable.”
Thanks in part to winning the Yass Prize, Valiant Cross is opening an elementary school next year. “We really need to catch them earlier,” said Anthony. “Everything is full steam ahead. We should be opening up with our kindergarten, first grade, and potentially second grade next year. And we’re going to add a grade each year until we become a K‑12 model.”
Anthony said he likes to focus on hope. He thinks every young person deserves to have “a village of people who can either walk with them or go out in front and lead the way for them.” He wants Valiant Cross graduates to be strong producers, providers and protectors for their families. “There’s so much that they’ve seen, that they’ve dealt with. But you don’t have to keep on perpetuating that. You can be the person that stops that cycle in your family. And takes it on a different trajectory.”
In addition to supporting the new elementary school, the Yass Prize is helping Anthony spread the word about Valiant Cross and encourage similar schools. “I want to know where there is some more interest in a school like Valiant Cross. I really wish that more young men could get this opportunity,” he said.
One of Anthony’s goals is to give kids a private school education without paying for it; only five to ten percent of students pay tuition. The rest of the funding comes either from one of Alabama’s school choice programs or fundraising. The spread of school choice policies around the country may help more schools like Valiant Cross be accessible to families across the income spectrum.