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Visit to Historically Black Colleges

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Portland Mentoring Alliance Students Visit Historically Black Colleges
Posted on 06/17/2019
This is the image for the news article titled Portland Mentoring Alliance Students Visit Historically Black Colleges

While Maine has a growing immigrant population, demographic reports show that the state’s population is still 95 percent white. So, when Brooke Rayford moved to Portland for a job at WGME CBS13 last year, she quickly sought out opportunities to share her life experiences with young women of color and soon discovered the Portland Mentoring Alliance (PMA) at Portland High School (PHS). 

Before starting her career as a journalist, Rayford experienced first-hand the important role mentors play in helping young minority women envision a successful future. She fully adopted the value of building a strong community of women who support each other when she attended Clark Atlanta University—part of the network of more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the United States established prior to the Civil Rights Act.

“I didn’t have any family or friends on the East Coast, so I wanted to find ways to get more involved in the community,” Rayford explained. “I thought I could be an example of a professional African-American woman who has successfully overcome challenges to achieve my goals.”

Though PHS is one of Maine’s most diverse institutions, Rayford believed African-American mentorship was lacking in the school. She then proposed an idea to host weekly get-togethers for female students of color, hoping to create a supportive and empowering space where the students could feel comfortable enough to share their experiences as young black women.

During these gatherings, the girls discussed anything that came to mind—from hair care to current racial injustices happening across the country. Then as they grew closer, questions about Rayford’s college life at Clark Atlanta University became more and more frequent and eventually formed the focal point for the group.

“Before meeting me, none of these young ladies even knew what an HBCU was, Rayford shared. “They were like wait, this exists, and can we visit one? One day, after they brought it up again, I asked them, ‘Are you guys serious?’ Then I thought, why not?”

When Rayford asked the girls which HBCU they wanted to visit, they immediately chose Howard University in Washington D.C. Once the decision was made, she was determined to make it happen. She approached PMA Program Coordinator Jennifer Cook and PHS Principal Sheila Jepsen. After getting the green light from the school district, Rayford started a GoFundMe Campaign, and Cook began planning logistics to take seven female students from home to Howard over spring break.

The campaign was a success, and many community members and HBCU alumni provided financial support, which allowed Rayford and Cook to take seven PHS students to visit Morgan State University in Baltimore and Howard University in Washington, D.C. In addition to the college tours and social events with Brooke’s tight community of HBCU alumni, the group visited cultural sites including the National Mall, the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

“This trip was pivotal to these young girls’ lives, as they explore where they want to go to college and what they want to do afterwards,” Rayford reflected. “It helped give them insight into diverse possibilities.”

“It just felt like home!”, the students exclaimed when describing the feeling they got while walking on campus. Talking to Rayford’s sorority sisters—a group of successful career women working in the D.C. Metro Region—was also a big highlight they said. Conversation with these women gave them a different perspective on going to college, and the students were excited to learn that they could study at a place which also embraced black culture. Now they plan to apply to at least one or two HBCUs during their college search next fall.

Superintendent Xavier Botana supports continuing the HBCU fieldtrip next year and plans to host a college fair focusing on HBCUs in the near future. At the same time the trip to Howard University was being planned, he had already begun building a relationship with Morgan State University and asked the group if they could add a visit there to the itinerary. He hopes initiatives like these will create more awareness for diverse college options available to better serve the district’s multicultural community.

For more information about the 2019 fieldtrip to Morgan State and Howard Universities or for questions about the Portland Mentoring Alliance, contact Jennifer Cook, PMA Program Coordinator at cookj@portlandschools.org.