Brown Scholars meet in Aspen
Sixty African-American scholars, along with nationally known leadership figures, convened in Aspen this weekend as part of the Ron Brown Scholar Program’s “Defining Leadership for a New Millennium” summer conference.
The undergraduate scholars, hailing from top schools across the country, and their promising futures were the subject of the extended weekend of lectures and seminars.
Washington Post columnist William Raspberry; Steve Selby, a political insider whose company ran the media campaign for Clinton/Gore 1996; and several other leading professionals from the fields of medicine, law, finance and public service were among the participants. The conference aims to promote networking and mentorships among the young scholars.
“The scholars listen to those individuals and they talk with them together about public policy and about getting involved and becoming activists in that regard; those are the fun, positive, exciting things that come out of this,” said Michael Mallory, executive director of the Ron Brown Scholar Program. “It’s about introducing them to ideas and people that otherwise they can’t get to, or they aren’t comfortable in going to. We make them comfortable in approaching people.”
The program, founded in 1996 to honor the memory of the late Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, awards 20 scholarships each year to talented and motivated African-American high school seniors who demonstrate a financial need, social commitment and leadership potential. Every third summer, the scholars will convene for a summer conference. This was the program’s first conference.
The scholars, which now total 60, may attend the university of their choosing and choose their own major. But whether they matriculate to Harvard (as 19 scholars have done), or MIT (as five have done), or Stanford (as four have done), they all will remain in the program beyond their college years, though in different capacities as they progress in their chosen fields. Among other things, the program’s proteg scholars of today are likely to become mentors for the program’s proteg scholars of tomorrow.
“What we really want to do is enhance their ability to contribute more to the community,” said Mallory. “We’ve decided that we want them to network with one another and then gain an appreciation of how they might influence their communities. The idea was, that if we could find very talented young people who might not have the most advantages in terms of family – they may not come from a wealthy family, most of them do not – but if we could mold them, and shape them, and take the energy that they already have and enhance that ability, then we’ll have some great public servants in the next 20 years.”
Mallory likens his position within the program to a dean of students at a college.
“I just keep an eye on them, because we know they’re very bright, but we think very bright kids need lots of direction to become even better public servants,” he said. “There are so many programs that give out scholarships and dollars, but there are very few programs that follow the students. And it’s the following that makes the difference, it’s not the dollars, it’s the support.”
“Once they’re selected to the program, I say, look forward to the next forty years,” Mallory said. “We interact over the Internet while they’re in college all the time – there’s constant communication between us, and there will continue to be as they progress and younger scholars with similar interests enter the program … We’re going to become much more of a family than we even are now, and we’re pretty tight at this point.”
“We can’t do it all, but we think this is a good idea, we’re going to continue it, and it’s something we think in the long run will make a significant impact,” Mallory said. “This experiment is going to be, in my estimation, something that they’re going to look back on and say, `Wow.'”
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