Providing scholarships to minority students will help create a stronger, more diverse future for the city of Pittsburgh, says Darryl Wiley, CEO of the Fund for Advancement of Minorities through Education, or FAME.
“If we invest in kids and we create successful young people, we eventually grow families and have families to be successful,” Wiley says. “If we grow enough families to be successful, eventually communities will grow.”
FAME began in 1994 to address the low number of minorities in city leadership positions as well as the sparse minority student enrollment in Pittsburgh’s independent schools. The organization awards scholarships to help students attend schools that provide greater opportunity than their local public schools.
“[The founders of FAME] saw a difference in the school systems that kids had access to, and the biggest barrier was really finances,” Wiley says.
The organization currently supports 77 students and 110 past students have graduated. Wiley says all the organization’s graduates have attended four-year institutions and more than half of them return to the city after college.
Wiley, who has served as FAME’s CEO for two years, sees this as a mechanism to grow promising minority students into leaders.
“If we can invest in these young people now, then eventually we’ll see that picture that we all want to see,” Wiley says.
Wiley draws on his own experience attending the University of Pittsburgh after growing up in Newark, New Jersey. He says people in Pittsburgh took care of him, feeding him and welcoming him into their homes, which led him to remain in the city.
“When I graduated, I specifically told my family I wanted to stay here because I wanted to invest in young people here in Pittsburgh because people had [invested in] me,” Wiley says.
Wiley says many of the students in the program are facing the same challenges he experienced growing up in Newark.
“A lot of these students, just because they’re bright and talented, they’re not immune from all those temptations,” Wiley explains. “They’re not immune from all of the things that may get in their way, all the barriers.”
Even if students end up in a quality school, Wiley said they return to the same neighborhoods and run into many of the same challenges when they attend colleges. To that end, the organization provides year-round support by holding leadership symposiums and workshops, helping students prepare for their SATS and taking them on college tours.
“The idea is that we want to kind of wrap our arms around our children,” Wiley says.
A recent graduate returned to speak at the organization’s annual luncheon.
He was from Aliquippa, but FAME allowed him to attend Sewickley Academy. He graduated from Duke University with an engineering degree this year and will attend Columbia University to obtain his Ph. D.
He says the program benefits not only the minority students who receive scholarships, but the city as a whole.
“I think having bright and talented children in this city will contribute to the diversity of the city overall and making it greater.”
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