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Livingstone graduating 10th Bridge Program class Friday

By Laurie D. Willis

Livingstone College News Service

SALISBURY – When Eugene Brown first came to Livingstone College, suffice it to say he was a little rough around the edges. When he graduated four years later, Brown was a polished, honors student who had spent two summers interning on Capitol Hill.

Brown came to Livingstone through its Summer Bridge Program, which is for students who had academic deficiencies in high school and who, because of their grades and SAT scores, might not be accepted at many other colleges and universities.

The intensive, six-week program includes classes in English, math and other subjects, places a heavy emphasis on attitude and behavior and involves early morning workouts and sessions designed to teach students proper etiquette and other things they won’t necessarily learn in a classroom but need to know. Students are also exposed to cultural activities, like The Martin Luther King, Jr. Monument in Washington, D.C. and the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore. Those who successfully complete the program are admitted provisionally as freshmen and given a stipend toward their tuition.

This Friday, the Bridge Program will celebrate its 10th anniversary when 92 students graduate in a ceremony at 7 p.m. at Livingstone’s School of Hospitality Management & Culinary Arts, housed in the former Holiday Inn at 530 Jake Alexander Blvd. Brown and other former Bridge students have been invited back for the milestone event.

“We thought it only fitting that for this, the 10th graduation ceremony of the Bridge Program, we invite former Bridge students to come back and participate with us on Friday night,” said Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. “We hope some of them will attend the ceremony so they can serve as real-life examples to our Bridge graduates of the types of futures they can have if only they apply themselves and study and work hard during their time here at Livingstone.”

The Bridge Program was Jenkins’ brainchild. He started it because of his unwavering belief that all students can learn when they are placed in the proper environment. Jenkins implemented a similar program at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, when he was president of that institution.

Livingstone’s first Bridge Program director was Dr. Yvonne Tracey. Next to run the program was Judith Cowan, followed by Keith Coleman and Dr. Gary Callahan, who co-ran it. But the program has become synonymous with Sylvester Kyles, who has served as its director since 2009. Although assistant director Vincia Benjamin Miller has run the program in Kyle’s absence this summer, he will attend Friday’s graduation and soon be back at the helm.

Livingstone’s First Lady Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins has been involved with the Bridge Program since its inception at Livingstone in 2006.

“I started with the program at Edward Waters College in Jacksonville,” she said. “I pretty much … taught some classes, supervised it and did whatever needed to be done. When we came here to Salisbury, I worked with Ms. Cowan behind the scenes, organizing the schedule and giving input on the curriculum.”

In conversations about how best to run the program, organizers decided to take a military approach, Moore Jenkins said.

“We decided we had to have a more engaging schedule, providing classes and activities for the students from early in the morning to the evening,” Moore Jenkins said. “It was more like a boot camp because we tried to give them a realistic view of what college life would be like. We wanted to make sure they didn’t have excessive down time, and we wanted to test their stamina, motivation and their willingness to complete what they started.”

One key to the program’s success, she said, has been financial support from Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., senior bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and his wife Iris Miller Battle, and from former Senior Bishop George W.C. Walker Sr. and his wife Geraldine Jackson Walker.

Another key was getting the students to fully embrace it.

“We wanted it to become ‘their program’ with our constant guidance,” Moore Jenkins explained. “We really wanted them to buy into it so that when their regular classes started in the fall they’d be able to continue being disciplined and going to class on time and studying hard and making good decisions just as they had all summer. We wanted them to want it for themselves…”

Brown, who cannot attend Friday’s graduation because he’ll be in Los Angeles on business, not only embraced Bridge but also became a student leader at Livingstone. After graduating with honors in 2012, he worked for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and today is a political consultant and social media adviser for IMPACT Strategies out of Washington, D.C.

The young man who acknowledges goofing off in high school and not taking academics seriously now credits his success, in large part, to the Bridge Program.

“I think that all students, no matter their background or the demographics they stem from, need the opportunity to encounter an equalizer,” Brown said. “A program like Bridge represents an opportunity for people to catch up and to get to a place where they understand the opportunity they have in front of them.

“Sometimes it’s not about grades or behavior or any of the things people say typically hold students back,” Brown continued. “It’s about opportunity. The Bridge Program was a moment in time for me to say, ‘well, I may have goofed off in high school. I may have wasted an opportunity, but now I have another one and it’s time for me to do what needs to be done.’ ”

Brown’s words are music to the ears of Moore Jenkins and her husband, who was adamant when offered the top administrative position at Livingstone that he wouldn’t accept it unless he was allowed to create a Holistic Learning Environment, from which the Bridge Program was spawned.

“Students like Eugene Brown are a prime example of why educators must never stop developing creative ways to reach and teach children,” Jenkins said. “A lot of colleges wouldn’t have given Eugene a chance based on his high school transcript, but we believed that in the right environment he could be successful. I’m so very proud of Eugene and other former Bridge students who’ve attended graduate school or obtained good jobs. Likewise, I’m proud of our current Bridge students, can’t wait to shake their hands Friday night and look forward to having them as part of our freshman class this fall.”

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