Incoming Student Started Scholarship Fund for Black Men

Montell Brown ’23 Hopes To Use Law Degree To End Racial Disparities
Montell Brown

Montell Brown started the Raymond Pace Alexander Scholarship at his Alpha Phi Alpha chapter. Photo courtesy of Montell Brown

August 13, 2020

For Montell Brown, education and opportunity are everything.

So much so that the incoming University of Virginia School of Law student started a scholarship fund for Black male high school students in Philadelphia.

The Cincinnati native calls Philly his “second home,” because that’s where he obtained his undergraduate degree in criminology, from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s where he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which emphasizes service and advocacy to the community. And it’s where he pursued his interest in helping young people by volunteering in public schools, then getting his license and teaching middle school science professionally for a year.

“It’s important to develop our youth,” Brown said. “There are so many disparities. I want to play my part in reducing those disparities. And there’s no better way to learn about [problems in] education than by being a teacher.”

Now he’s finishing up his master’s in urban education through Penn as he simultaneously takes on his first year of law school.

“Everyone is not going to know the experiences of a Black or brown person,” he said of his interest in improving the law from the inside.

As president of his fraternity chapter, Brown continued a mentoring program with a high school near his college campus and instituted the Raymond Pace Alexander Scholarship. Its namesake is the chapter’s founder and one of Brown’s personal heroes, who went on to become a leading civil rights attorney and the first African American appointed to the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas.

The scholarship started modestly in 2018-19, Brown’s senior year, with the fraternity earmarking $1,000 for one graduating high school student, to help with his books and other expenses beyond tuition. However, the fund grew to $15,000 the following year, after a fundraiser, ensuring its long-term existence. Any Black male high school student in the Philadelphia area can now apply, and two young men were selected this past year. Brown continues on as president of the fund to help administer it.

As a child, Brown’s education veered from city of Cincinnati public schools to the suburbs when his family moved. He found himself at a high school that was 90% white. Although it was in many ways an isolating experience, it was also an opportunity to grow and develop his leadership abilities. He went on to become the first Black president of his high school.

Later, as an undergraduate, Brown was in intern with the U.S. Department of Commerce and with the District Attorney’s Office of Philadelphia. The DA experience taught him about how much discretion prosecutors have, and how their decisions can affect marginalized communities.

“That’s what shaped the pursuit of my law degree,” he said. “If not exercised correctly, those decisions can negatively affect Black and brown people.”

Himself a former recipient of the selective Ron Brown Scholarship, Brown is interested in policy and the courtroom, education law and civil rights.

At UVA, he hopes to continue his outreach to high schools with programs like Street Law, which teaches students about their rights. He is also looking forward to taking the Prosecution Clinic.

His fellow law students most likely will hear him singing occasionally, too. Brown has spent a number of years performing in gospel choirs.

“I used to sing concepts to my science students,” he said. “Sometimes it worked; sometimes it just annoyed the kids.”

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