A hard-won, practical tale of adopting a class of students and guaranteeing them a college education if they want it. And Brown works hard to convince them that, for most, college is the only road to advancement.
In 1987, in her ratty neighborhood of East Oakland, California, Brown was asked by a child, “Lady, can I have a quarter?” But Brown was nobody’s fool, not even a six-year-old’s, so, since she was shopping anyway, she told the girl to go get what she wanted—which turned out to be staple items, not candy or soda. As a result, Brown, a real-estate saleswoman with a salary of $45,000, picked up the tab and was haunted by the encounter. She unsuccessfully tried to locate the girl at a local elementary school, but she did find a class of 23 first-graders who grabbed her heart. Damning the consequences, she told the school principal that she would pay for each of the students to attend college if they ended up wanting that. This isn’t just a heartwarming story, but it’s about Brown’s conviction that without a college diploma you’re rowing upstream, as she says, and that the hard road to college is going to make thinking people out of her charges. It’s also a story about dedication. From the start, Brown was there, on the phone, in the classroom, in living rooms, addressing all kinds of doubt and crisis, tendering absolutes when needed—stay away from drugs, period—along with more nuanced advice about self-respect and social awareness. Brown is plainspoken, giving her views on everything from sternness to listening, the impact of special people in your life, to practical matters of setting up trust accounts and saving for your own child’s higher education, even when your income is scant.
Brown couldn’t sleep until she knew why that little girl wanted a quarter. Few among us better deserve a good night’s rest.