By Brittany Ballentine, KIPP Baltimore Alumna
As I entered through the doors of KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore for the first time, I read the green letters painted on the first step: “Work hard. Be nice.” At the time, I did not understand the impact this motto, and this school, would have on my life.
Now, as a proud 2015 graduate of Fordham University, pursuing a career in modern dance, I want to say to all the people who lived that motto for me, the people who were willing to help me and my fellow students further our education in ways we didn’t think possible: Thank you.
I know how it feels to not receive an adequate education because of a lack of resources. I was born and raised in inner-city Baltimore, where the public school system is not known for excellence. Because of this, I had to find and earn the resources that would help me get an education that would prepare me to excel in college.
When I arrived at KIPP Ujima Village Academy in sixth grade, I was reading on a third grade level. I constantly asked myself what was holding me back—I even wondered if I had a learning disability. While at KIPP, I struggled to keep up, but my teachers believed in me, even while I doubted myself. They pushed me to read more, gave me challenging assignments to complete and encouraged me to do my very best. Their high expectations translated to a level of academic success I had never reached. More importantly, they helped me see what I was capable of accomplishing. I received the support, structure and education I needed to finish my years at KIPP as one of the top in my class.
When I left KIPP in the eighth grade, I was reading on a higher level than the average eighth-grader in my community. I went on to a high-performing private high school, St. Paul’s School for Girls. There, my dance teacher urged me to develop and share my talent and love for dance. He encouraged me to apply to the Ailey School’s Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Program at Fordham University.
Dance is now my life and I cannot imagine my world without it. Because I continued to follow the KIPP motto—“Work hard. Be nice.”—I pushed myself to earn the grades required to receive two merit scholarships at Fordham, which gave me the opportunity to study dance for four years in the home of my dream company, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
I graduated from Fordham summa cum laude, with a BFA in dance and a minor in African and African American Studies. While at Fordham, I had the opportunity to work with Ronald K. Brown, the artistic director of EVIDENCE, a modern dance company in Brooklyn. Now I’m apprenticing with the company, pursuing my dream of dancing professionally and traveling the world.
If not for the excellent education I got at KIPP, from the people who modeled “Work hard. Be nice.” for me every day, I simply would not have had these opportunities to shine.
Thank you for giving me, and others like me, that chance.