LeMoyne-Owen Col­lege’s golden op­por­tu­nity

The Commercial Appeal - - Sports - Your Turn Colum­nist

Daja Scur­lock’s youth­ful en­thu­si­asm is so con­ta­gious it makes you feel good to be alive. At least that’s how I felt af­ter talk­ing with her about her am­bi­tions and school life at LeMoyne-Owen Col­lege.

The 20-year-old math and com­puter sci­ence se­nior will grad­u­ate in May, but her ex­pe­ri­ences at the small jewel of a lib­eral arts in­sti­tu­tion have set the ex­pec­ta­tions bar pretty high. She is se­nior class pres­i­dent, pres­i­dent of the Aca­demic Aid As­so­ci­a­tion (tu­tors), and pres­i­dent of Mov­ing For­ward, which pre­pares STEM (sci­ence, tech­nol­ogy, engineering and math) ma­jors for grad­u­ate school.

As if that is not enough to keep her busy, Daja is trea­surer of the W. E. B. Du Bois Honors Pro­gram (ex­tra as­sign­ments and cred­its) and vice pres­i­dent of LeMoyne-Owen’s Sci­ence Club. On top of those lead­er­ship roles, the Craig­mont High School grad­u­ate who grew up in Raleigh is an in­tern at St. Jude Chil­dren’s Re­search Hospi­tal. And she is still en­thused by her sopho­more year in­tern­ship at the Univer­sity of South Carolina Aiken where she worked test­ing the im­pact of water con­tam­i­na­tion from nu­clear re­ac­tors at the Sa­van­nah River Site.

“LeMoyne-Owen of­fers so many won­der­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties,” said Daja. “You just have to find the ones that suit you. There is lit­er­ally some­thing for ev­ery­one. It’s up to you the stu­dent to take ad­van­tage of them.”

This is the tes­ta­ment of a stu­dent who found her way to LeMoyne-Owen Col­lege and thus her way in life.

That is what the his­toric, in­ner-city in­sti­tu­tion is all about – help­ing stu­dents find a com­fort­able learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment where they can thrive, prepare for eco­nomic in­de­pen­dence, and even­tu­ally make a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to so­ci­ety, whether that is Mem­phis or be­yond.

It is a school where stu­dents are di­verse in back­grounds, needs and ex­pec­ta­tions, and where each stu­dent can get per­sonal at­ten­tion cus­tom­ized to meet their needs. Elisha Jewell, a ju­nior mu­sic ma­jor, said she loves the fact that the classes are small.

“Some­times there are only two to four stu­dents in my classes,” she said. “There is a lot of one-on-one with the in­struc­tors; you get that ex­tra at­ten­tion from your teacher as well. It’s a won­der­ful homey feel­ing.”

Elisha, who is from Delaware, says her first choice was a mu­sic school in Aus­tralia, but her par­ents ve­toed it. Then she con­sid­ered an­other mu­sic school in Mem­phis. “But when I toured LeMoyne-Owen for the first time, I felt at home, so com­fort­able,” she said. “And I wanted that HBCU ex­pe­ri­ence as well. LeMoyne-Owen gives me the space to be cre­ative. I am ab­so­lutely pleased

point, if they go through the en­tire pro­gram, some­thing will click. They’ll be­gin to own what it means to be a Bridge Builder.

At BRIDGES, they call it “The Process.” And even though I thought I was done go­ing through it when I re­ceived my cer­tifi­cate of com­ple­tion in the spring of 2015, it isn’t done with me yet. But what is “The Process,” re­ally? The se­cret el­e­ment that makes Bridge Builders unique isn’t its cur­ricu­lum. I could pull out sev­eral it­er­a­tions of ac­tiv­i­ties from sum­mers I spent de­liv­er­ing the BB gospel to stu­dents, who, de­pend­ing on the day, the weather, and their mood, fell on vary­ing points along the spec­trum of re­cep­tive­ness.

The se­cret isn’t the state-of-the-art BRIDGES Cen­ter, or the fa­cil­i­ties we oc­cu­pied while travers­ing down­town Mem­phis on foot dur­ing “Ur­ban Trek.” Nor is it the col­lege cam­puses that housed us overnight dur­ing our re­spec­tive con­fer­ences.

Be­ing a Bridge Builder re­quires a deep lex­i­con of knowl­edge in the form of in­side jokes that no one else will know when stu­dents get home to their fam­i­lies. Work­ing for Bridge Builders un­locks an­other tier of insider base­ball, much of which I’d never share out­side the bond of my fel­low past fa­cil­i­ta­tors.

But even though I like to think of those things as se­cret and spe­cial, that still isn’t what makes the pro­gram so piv­otal.

The most im­por­tant thing is the peo­ple. The peo­ple of Mem­phis and Milling­ton, Col­lierville and Cor­dova, North Mis­sis­sippi and just across the bridge in Arkansas.

Ev­ery day, ev­ery chal­lenge, ev­ery mo­ment hinges on the vari­ables of the hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

Thank God we live in such a unique re­gion where our fu­ture lead­ers have a vi­brant and vast set of be­liefs, back­grounds, in­ter­ests, and per­son­al­i­ties. Be­cause just when you think you’re begin­ning to fig­ure out ex­actly what Bridge Builders means to you, a per­son does some­thing you’d never ex­pect. And im­me­di­ately, ev­ery­one around is tasked with learn­ing just how to deal with it.

No mat­ter the chal­lenge at hand, ev­ery Bridge Builder, fa­cil­i­ta­tor, and staffer is asked to an­a­lyze the out­come with the ex­is­ten­tial ques­tion: “OK, so what did we just do?”

The essence of Bridge Builders is not just in the an­swer—it’s in the growth we all ex­pe­ri­ence in the act of an­swer­ing.

When I grad­u­ated the pro­gram in the spring of 2015, I thought I was done with the laugh­ter this pro­gram gave me. I thought I had cried my last Bridge Builder tear and made my last new friend owed to the ex­pe­ri­ence.

But I’d soon come to find out that I’d smile again in the pro­gram. I’d bat­tle with new team­mates as a staff mem­ber and have to find a new com­pan­ion on the other side. I’d fall in and out of love with close friends I made. I’d even cry over the un­timely death of a beloved group mate.

I’d learn to ask my­self, “What did we just do?” Even when no one else could.

“The Process” isn’t done with me yet. Af­ter 30 years, it isn’t done with any of us.

Jared Boyd, Bridge Builders class of 2015, is a jour­nal­ist and for­mer con­trib­u­tor to The Com­mer­cial Ap­peal. Based cur­rently in Alabama, he cov­ers arts, cul­ture and trending news for Web­based mul­ti­me­dia site called “It’s a South­ern Thing.”

Lynn Nor­ment

KAT NETZLER

Fo­cused on three spe­cific out­comes for youth—di­ver­sity ap­pre­ci­a­tion, lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment, and com­mu­nity ac­tion—the Bridge Builders pro­gram "has evolved over the years, try­ing to meet the needs of this com­mu­nity and its young peo­ple," said pro­gram founder Becky Wil­son. "One of the needs we're ad­dress­ing now is the im­por­tance of lead­ers in this com­mu­nity lis­ten­ing to the voices of youth. They want and need to have a place at the ta­ble, not just as to­kens, but as part­ners, be­cause they have so much to add to the con­ver­sa­tion, whether it's about gov­ern­ment, or schools, or civic en­deav­ors."

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