Just a few days ago, Brooklyn Smith-Jones slid her index finger across the front of her cellphone screen and opened the message in her Franklin & Marshall College student email account. The email was from a representative of the college’s Business, Organization, and Society major, and was sent to notify Brooklyn that she had not been admitted into the highly competitive major. Any student interested in the major is well-aware of the rigorous admission process and that, if not accepted, student appeals are rarely reviewed.
But Brooklyn Smith-Jones isn’t any student.
Brooklyn was born a fighter.
During her birth, medical predictions suggested that the lives of Brooklyn and her mother were at risk; however, the little fighter proved them wrong. At 3-months old, she endured major kidney surgery and in her early years made many trips to Penn State Hershey Medical Center. “Growing up I didn’t realize how significant that was. I was like, whatever, it was just part of life. As I got older and understood the details; it made me take life more seriously. It helped me to make smarter choices,” says Brooklyn.
For Brooklyn, making smart choices surrounding academics, sports, and other extra-curricular activities was the norm. But it was through her connections with Advantage Lancaster that she gained the freedom to expand beyond the familiar. According to Brooklyn, she felt the program was similar to one she had previously been a part of, and when Mrs. Meadows, her homeroom teacher, invited her to join “I told her I would think about it,” said Brooklyn. She soon realized that Mrs. Meadows “wasn’t going to accept “no” as an answer!” Shortly thereafter, Brooklyn became involved in tutoring and the summer program at Advantage Lancaster.
While she excelled in the classroom and extracurricular opportunities, Brooklyn candidly shared that the environmental aspects of high school were often challenging. She and another Advantage Lancaster student were the only African American women in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme. IB classrooms are typically isolated; therefore, it is possible to make it through much of the school day with limited interaction with students who were not in the IB program.
According to Brooklyn, IB students were at times treated in higher regard than many other students by school administrators. If she stayed inside the perceived safe space of IB, Brooklyn, along with her IB peers were celebrated, invited to special events, and recognized as leaders. Brooklyn asserts that her teachers in high school were wonderful; however, if she stepped outside of the IB safety net — she was just another brown face in the sea of students who were according to Brooklyn, at times, unfairly profiled by school administrators. While frustrated by microaggressions and sometimes being overlooked for scholarships and academic awards; she would not be deterred. In fact, these challenges taught her how to be a respectful, yet outspoken advocate.
During high school, Brooklyn found comfort in her friendship group and the Advantage Lancaster family. As a part of the family, Brooklyn connected with students and mentors she may not have otherwise encountered. She was also afforded the opportunity to hone essential life skills while building lasting relationships. “One of the things I learned is that when you go places, and someone asks, “are there any questions?” The answer is never, no. There is always something else to learn; something else to discover.”
This sentiment directly resonates with a quote by Henry David Thoreau that, according to Brooklyn, is reflective of her lived experiences.
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
At just 20-years-old, this Franklin & Marshall College sophomore garners a tapestry of wisdom that many people twice her age have yet to reach. Brooklyn asserts that she is grateful for the many ways Advantage Lancaster has influenced her life. Through college visits, career skills, community service and so much more; Advantage Lancaster aided in Brooklyn’s ability to step out of her comfort zone and remain motivated.
When discussing her most significant Advantage Lancaster experience, Brooklyn reflects on a visit to Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania; specifically, the bus ride. “During this bus ride, I had my very last long and interesting conversation with Mr. Thedford. Anyone who knows Mr. Thedford knows that when you had free time to talk, he could talk! Just by listening to him speak, I knew that there was so much more to life than what I unconsciously limited my mind to.”
The Advantage Lancaster family provided Brooklyn with the opportunity to organically establish accountability partners that hold her to a standard of excellence. So, just a few days ago, when Brooklyn Smith-Jones slide her index finger across the front of her cellphone screen and read that she had not been admitted into the major of her choice it was an Advantage Lancaster sister-friend who, along with others, offered encouragement.
At first, I was going to let the opportunity pass me by until I had a conversation with my friend’s mother. She told me sometimes it takes that extra push. This immediately reminded me of a lesson I learned from my mentor Ms. Ruby Taylor ‘no, actually means new opportunity.” However, I still decided that maybe it was a sign and I wasn’t going to write the appeal. But by the next morning, something in my spirit told me to write the letter and be confident in what I wrote. With one hour to spare, I wrote the letter and hit send 2 minutes before it was due – and by the grace of God…
Shortly after hitting send, Brooklyn received an email response from the program representative accepting her into the college’s Business, Organization and Society major. “Wait! Wait! I got in. He emailed me back. I got in!” Brooklyn and her Advantage Lancaster sister-friend embraced, then fell over on the couch as they celebrated the victory.  They released screams of joy and read the remainder of the email message. Their days as the only two African-American women in their academically rigorous high school IB program seemed so long ago; yet, their consistent support of each other’s success is ever present.
Although there are times that she is challenged by sociocultural restraints, Brooklyn often uses her experiences as fuel for her current success as a F&M student. “My grandfather told me, ‘you don’t have to go far away to get a college experience.’” Based on her track record she is taking her grandfather’s words to heart. In just a year and a half, she has maintained a strong G.P.A., has gotten deeply involved in her campus community and was on the reactivation line of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated at F&M.
After earning her undergraduate degree from Franklin & Marshall College, she plans to head on to graduate school. “Success is a lifestyle that cannot be attained without preparation or without taking advantage of the opportunities that approach us,” says Brooklyn. For some students, a hectic academic and extracurricular schedule would be overwhelming; yet, Brooklyn takes it all in stride – one step at a time.
Brooklyn Smith-Jones isn’t any student.
Brooklyn was born a fighter.
 Willie Thedford passed away on April 2, 2016.
 Rarely does a writer have the opportunity to position herself in the lived experiences she narrates. However, watching the interaction between these accountability partners and sister-friends as they encouraged each other nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was honored to be present during this experience. It beautifully illustrates the exceptional nature of this phenomenal program.
Advantage Lancaster, a 503(c)3 nonprofit corporation, is led by three Pennsylvania certified teachers and numerous volunteers. Advantage Lancaster partners with the School District of Lancaster (SDOL) and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology to offer students opportunities beyond the normal classroom, including exposing them to a college campus.
**Folding Chair is a rapidly expanding site that provides a platform for narrative advocacy. It was created by Kesha Morant Williams.