On April 18, the Fund for the Advancement of Minorities through Education (FAME) will take over the August Wilson Center to celebrate decades of graduating gifted and determined students of color from some of the area’s most outstanding independent schools.
FAME CEO Darryl T. Wiley calls the event a “friendraiser” that will showcase the achievements of the students and, hopefully, cultivate new sponsors and donors to help further the organization’s mission.
“I said to a friend the other day, what if I told you there was an organization in California that just graduated 16 kids who’d been accepted to schools that included Harvard, Cornell, Columbia and CMU? He said that would be impressive. I said, it’s actually in Pittsburgh—It’s FAME,” said Wiley. “There’s a wealth of talent here. It just needs an opportunity—that’s where FAME comes in.”
Founded in 1993 by then-Sewickley Academy board Chair Ron Gebhardt as a vehicle to increase diversity among independent schools, it enrolled five Black students—one each—at Shady Side Academy, The Ellis School, Winchester Thurston School, St. Edmund’s Academy and Sewickley Academy the following year.
Since then, it has also added the Kiski School and Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio as partner schools. In 2012, the organization launched FAME Academy—a demanding summer and weekend program for rising middle school students. It is now a requirement for aspiring sixth-graders who want to become FAME scholars.
“It’s the conduit. It really helps the transition academically and socially. Then in eighth grade we support their applications to all seven schools,” Wiley said. “This year, we’re placing 11 kids for fall 2018. By 2014, we had 67 students in the Academy pipeline. This year, we’re currently at 80. For the 2018-19 school year it will be somewhere between 80-85.”
At this year’s anniversary event, which begins at 4:30 p.m. with an alumni reception and 5:30 p.m. for the celebration, about 73 students, including eighth-graders, will be on hand, making presentations and soaking in the experience. That would not have been possible in past years when the annual celebration was a luncheon hosted at the Duquesne Club.
“Duquesne Club was very nice and very generous, but the space was cramped. And because it was a luncheon, it always felt rushed,” said Wiley. “Now, having it in the evening, we have more time. We have the first hour to meet and greet, make presentations about travel abroad and various projects, and then the celebration program to highlight the kids. It also allows us to open up the guest list—hopefully some will be amazed and want to donate. PNC is now our lead sponsor.”
Wiley said though FAME has come a long way from those first five students, he doesn’t anticipate adding any new partner schools in the near future. Serving more kids is always a goal—but serving them well is more important.
“Most (are) from Pittsburgh, and most (are) from East End. One thing I want to see is how do we access kids in the West End, Mon Valley,” he said.
“The big piece in growth is in achievement—we want them to reach their capacity. It’s the quality of the experience they have. Our college tour—like the one we just finished to 14 schools in six days—our SAT prep, and leadership visits to corporations, all lend themselves to our kids being successful. One hundred-percent of our kids get accepted to college.”
FAME recently added a development and alumni director to the staff—bringing the total to five plus an intern—who is working to build an alumni association. “Believe it or not,” Wiley said, “We’re still trying to find those first five (students).”
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