BUILDING FRIENDSHIPS AND CAREER PATHS
"Every summer, every tutoring session, every cohort meeting and every performance counts. These opportunities don’t always come to students of color. If you get them, you have to take advantage of them.”
—Ashley Brown, graduating senior May 2006 from Memorial High School
Ashley Brown, Senior, Memorial High School, Madison
Ashley Brown loves to eat oatmeal in the morning. Maybe that’s why she still remembers a breakfast in the summer of 2000 with the first group of middle school students to attend the PEOPLE program in Madison.
Clutching their backpacks, these pioneering sixth-graders tentatively approached the meal that would start their six-year journey together. “We were all in the same grade, but we were very different from each other,” recalls Ashley.
Aside from their age, they had something else in common, under the surface. A teacher or counselor had seen the spark of potential and recommended they participate in an innovative pre-college enrichment experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
One of Ashley’s sixth grade teachers at Jefferson Middle School first recommended her to the PEOPLE program. “Living on the west side, I didn’t have a lot of black or Hispanic friends,” says Ashley. “The PEOPLE Program helped me increase my friends of color and, at the same time, learn from other cultures.”
Talking with this poised and articulate young woman it is difficult to believer her when she says, “Coming out of fifth grade I was the geek girl. But when I came to the PEOPLE Program, it didn’t have that ‘Don’t hang out with her because she is a black girl’ feeling. I had people who were like me, people I will probably know forever.” Participating in the summer enrichment classes and workshops helped form those bonds.
Emphasizing the lasting friendships made in the program, Ashley says she regularly keeps in touch with students from Milwaukee and her former mentor Kenyata Jones who now lives in Atlanta. “She is very down-to-earth. Everybody loved to go to her. I still talk to her and she is always excited to hear about the program. It helps to know that aside from your parents, PEOPLE is a place to go that feels like family.”
Catching the media bug
One of her favorite classes early on was Newspaper Publishing with Valerie Humphrey where students conduct interviews and interact with other PEOPLE students and teachers, write articles, take photographs and design their own newspaper. “The PEOPLE program introduced me to the newspaper and I have never let go. Every summer I’ve been involved in the media world,” says Ashley.
Most recently, Ashley saw a different side of that world — the side that helps make a television news station run. “I learned about what goes on in the background like selling commercial time and organizing special events.” Her internship at Madison’s WB57 culminated in a public service announcement showcasing the PEOPLE program and getting plenty of airtime thanks to station account executive Kay-Tee Olds.
Summer television editing workshop instructor Patricia Hastings helped Ashley create the public service announcement, as well as make a video collage and get a scholarship. She recommends new PEOPLE students take full advantage of the UW campus connections. “You build so many partnerships where you have this unbreakable bond,” she says.
Sticking with it
Currently a senior at Memorial High School, Ashley is the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, leads a drill dance team, tutors in Spanish and is active in youth ministry at her church. Where does she find the time for the PEOPLE program?
“During the school year it does get hard. But the way the program is set up it is really designed to help you succeed,” she says. “Now, it’s so automatic that I always put the PEOPLE program on the top shelf, because it has always been there for me.”
Ashley shared her hopes for 12-year-old cousin Brianna and other young people interested in the program. “The PEOPLE program has been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Every summer, every tutoring session, every cohort meeting and every performance counts. These opportunities don’t always come to students of color. If you get them, you have to take advantage of them.”
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