CHICAGO (CBS) — On Chicago’s South Side, there was a ceremony for young black males who have graduated from kindergarten, elementary school, high school and college.

It was the fourth annual Mass Black Male Graduation and Transition to Manhood Ceremony.

The Black Star Project, whose motto is “Educate or Die,” was behind the event that drew about 50 graduates and a couple hundred mentors and family members.

Executive director Philip Jackson looked over the crowd and said, “I see hope. I see the future.” The best way, he added, “to improve violence in Chicago, the best way to improve our city, is to improve these young men.”

Young black men, he said, “are at the bottom of the economic totem pole, they’re at the top of the violence and murder totem pole, so by improving these young men you improve Chicago.”

An 8th grade graduate, Elija Miller, said he knows he needs to support his peers and be an example. He was valedictorian at his school.

The graduates heard from successful black men, and several police officers were among the role models in the crowd.

Commander Darren Dawson, of the 3rd district, said it was important to be there “to foster mentor-ship for these young men who are moving forward in life.”

“It’s about an uplifting experience,” he said, “to show these guys that their education is not for naught.”