The scholarship organization A Better Chance, founded in 1963, has provided many students of color with the chance to attend college-prep private and public schools across the country. Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, A Better Chance has tens of thousands of alumni/ae who are active in many fields. The organization includes among its famous alumni and alumnae the current governor of Masschusetts, Deval Patrick, who was raised on the South Side of Chicago by a single mother. One of his middle school teachers recognized his talent, and Mr. Patrick was able to attend Milton Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, on a scholarship provided by A Better Chance. He later went on to attend Harvard College and Harvard Law School before becoming governor of Massachusetts.
A Better Chance helps about 500 students per year attend over 300 college-prep day and boarding schools, both public and private, across the country. According to President Sandra E. Timmons, there are over 13,000 alumni and alumnae of this program, and many are influential in the fields of business, government, education, the arts, and other areas. Originally, the program involved identifying and selecting talented students of color and providing scholarships for them to attend private day and boarding schools. In the first year, even before President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his War on Poverty, 55 boys, all poor and mostly African-American, took part in an academically rigorous summer program. If they completed the program, the headmasters of 16 private schools agreed to accept them. Today, the program also includes Latino and Asian students, and while many students are still poor, the program also accepts middle-class students and subsidizes tuition for these students based on need. The current program is focused on increasing diversity at educational institutions.
In the 1970s, the program began to send students to competitive public high schools in areas such as New Canaan, Connecticut; Westport, Connecticut ; and Amherst, Massachusetts. Students live in a house staffed by program tutors and administrators, and the local community provides support for their house. In addition, many colleges across the country, from Stanford in California to Colgate in New York state, have partnered with A Better Chance to express their interest in promoting diversity.
To participate in the program, students have to write an essay, ask for letters of recommendation, and be interviewed. There can be as many as 2,500 applicants a year, and only a quarter of those who apply are chosen.
As A Better Chance celebrates its 50th anniversary, President Sandra Timmons believes that its mission is as important as ever. She writes on the organization’s website, “The need for access to quality education is greater than ever. Gaps in academic achievement based on race continue. Many students of color are unable to realize their full potential because they lack access to quality educational experiences.”
A Better Chance continues to make educational dreams come true for students like singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and who attended the Wooster School in Connecticut on a scholarship provided by A Better Chance. The Wooster School is a private co-ed pre-K through 12 school. After she graduated from the Wooster School in 1982, Ms. Chapman went on to Tufts University near Boston, where she majored in African Studies and Anthropology. She also started to perform at local venues, and she was discovered by a classmate whose father helped her get her first recording contract, though she insisted on graduating from college first. She is famous for singles such as Fast Car and Give Me One Reason.