Family donating $5 million to help middle-schoolers

Browns' gift targets pupils in 2 of city's poorest communities

Academic, personal support

January 08, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

Investor Eddie C. Brown announced yesterday that his family's foundation would donate $5 million to provide educational and personal support to Baltimore's African-American middle-school children.

The Turning the Corner Achievement Program will focus on two of Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods, providing academic help in addition to health, social and employment services. The targeted neighborhoods, one on each side of the city, will be selected later this year.

Last year, the Brown family donated $6 million to the Maryland Institute College of Art for a new campus building and created a $1 million endowment at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

The Turning the Corner program is the family's first philanthropic foray into elementary-secondary education and the largest charitable donation to city schoolchildren and their families.

Brown said yesterday that a year ago, "I put together a brain trust to talk about how we could help African-American youth in Baltimore who have so much potential but face severe barriers in achieving success. My advisers said the biggest void was in the middle-school ages."

The program has two parts. One will help prepare children for high school with academic and family support throughout middle school.

"We'll try to address everything that acts as a barrier to success," said Brown, 61, founder and president of Brown Capital Management Inc., one of the nation's oldest black-owned investment firms.

"It's a wraparound, meaning that it will go well beyond traditional academic services," he said. "There'll be social services, health, employment, whatever it takes, even if it means finding jobs for parents."

The program will begin with 70 pupils and add new ones each year as they enter middle school.

The second component will give additional academic assistance to middle-schoolers across the city, focusing on reading, writing, math and science beginning the summer before children enter seventh grade.

"Graduates of the program will be well prepared for rigorous academic curricula at any public or private high school," said Thomas E. Wilcox, president of the Baltimore Community Foundation, which will manage the program with Associated Black Charities.

Wilcox said the Brown family -- Eddie and Sylvia Brown and their daughters, Jennifer Brown and Tonya Ingersol -- originally wanted to invest $1 million but became convinced that more was needed.

"There are hundreds of capable young people in distressed neighborhoods who only need a chance to thrive," Wilcox said.

The program is named for the West Baltimore intersection of Fayette and Monroe streets made famous in the book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, by David Simon and Edward Burns.

Wilcox said the program will be unique in addressing social, health and economic needs along with academic concerns. "And it will stay in the neighborhoods where these kids live and go to school," he said.

Donna Jones Stanley, executive director of Associated Black Charities, said she expects that several agencies will take part in Turning the Corner.

"This is a collaborative project that no one organization can possibly do alone," she said. "We might have a college, a hospital or health center, a community organization. Too often organizations work in isolation. That won't be possible here."

Stanley said the program has been a year in the planning. She said Brown's advisers ranged from Freeman A. Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to Lenny Clay, owner of a barbershop near the corner of West Fayette and Monroe streets.

Brown was the first member of his family to finish high school.

"I know what it's like to be in middle school and have to struggle," said Brown, whose mother gave birth to him at the middle-school age of 13. "Mine was a single-parent family. My mother never married, and I was raised by my grandparents."

Said Wilcox: "The depth of Eddie Brown's generosity is extraordinary. Now it's up to us in the philanthropic community to make this successful."

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