The college graduation rate for African Americans is on the rise, but remains substantially lower than that of white students. Verlando Brown was the first in his family to graduate from college, and works to help other first-generation college students adjust and remain in school.
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Recorded on January 24, 2017. Read a partial transcript of this Comcast Newsmakers interview below:
Traynham: According to a 2016 report by The Education Trust, the college graduation rate for African-Americans is on the rise but remains substantially lower than that of white students. In 2013, just under 47% of black students graduated. Education advocate Verlando Brown has a unique perspective on this subject. Verlando, welcome to the program.
Brown: Thank you for having me.
Traynham: You know, I need to set this interview up by talking about your inspirational story for the viewers at home and for those that are watching on their smart device. You are a first-generation college graduate.
Traynham: Bachelor?s degree, as well as master?s degree.
Traynham: Walk us through your story.
Brown: Sure. So, I'm from Baltimore, Maryland, raised by a single mom where I grew up in a very tough environment filled with drugs and crime. But my mother believed that education was the way to get out of poverty and get out -- get out of that situation. And I followed -- it was because of her, her love, her push and determination that I was able to stay focused in school and not get caught up in the street life instead.
Traynham: And you also had a high-school counselor that pushed you -- pushed you in a good way.
Brown: Yes, yes.
Traynham: And so, you know, Verlando, you got accepted to Towson State University.
Brown: Yes, yes.
Traynham: But truth be told, it was a rough -- it was a rough transition for you.
Traynham: Walk us through that.
Brown: Yeah, so, when I got into Towson University, it was -- like, my first semester was very, very challenging.
Traynham: Academically, culturally, or all of the above?
Brown: Culturally, all. All of the above. It was just -- so with academically, let's say with time management. Studying, learning how to study, writing, my writing skills, everything.
Traynham: You know, Verlando, it's really interesting because my understanding is first generation is so hard because you don't have that role model. You can't say, you know, "My dad told me" or "My mom told me this is how you should do it in college."
Traynham: Because they don't know.
Brown: They don't, right.
Traynham: And so, you're kind of paving that path on your own.
Brown: Yes, yes.
Traynham: And there was a couple times when you thought about dropping out.
Brown: Yes, yes. There was. Because of what I experienced or went through, it was mentally and emotionally frustrating to me that I almost went -- I almost walked over to the registrar?s office at Towson and told them, "I just can't do this no more."
Brown: "I can't -- this is too much. I'm ready to leave. I'm ready to drop out."
Traynham: And Verlando, let's talk about that for a few moments, because you're not the only one.
Traynham: You're not the only one that is walking this path, that is struggling every single day to make life better for them. My understanding is, this is your life?s work now, so you want to give back because this is something that you've walked through.
Traynham: And so, how are you doing that with people of color?
Brown: Yes, a mentorship, and it's through speaking engagements where I'm sharing my story to youth in the communities, especially youth of color, to inspire and empower them that they can get through college and graduate.
Traynham: And I think what's so important, Verlando, is that when people that look like you and I see people like you and I that maybe have a college degree, and it says, "Well, if he can do it," or "If she can do it, I can do it because this is a real-life example."