LeMoyne-Owen College’s golden opportunity
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.”
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."