PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The Southwest Philadelphia high school senior who received a prestigious scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has selected the college she will attend in the fall. As heard first on KYW Newsradio, Akayla Brown has quite a few to chose from.
"I’m so excited," 18-year-old Brown said. "This isn’t a dream anymore. This is reality, and the best part is it's my reality."
Brown's reality at Bodine High School is pretty fantastic. She received acceptances from 18 colleges across the country and secured more than $2.5 million in scholarships.
Named a KYW Newsradio 2021 GameChanger during Black History Month, Brown has been lauded for years for her work in the community. She founded the non-profit Dimplez for Days at age 13. The organization focused on youth programming, planning dozens of events over the years.
Well known as a dancer and athlete, Brown held down a 4.19 GPA. She was mentored by the leaders of the NOMO Foundation, and she was viewed as a “rock star." She even had her photo on their wall.
Yet when she applied for the Gates scholarship, she wasn’t sure she’d get it.
"I was screaming. I was, like, shaking," she said. "I couldn’t believe it."
Akayla was one of just 300 scholars chosen out of a pool of 34,000.
"I don’t have to worry about nothing," Brown said. "I can go to school for five years — no student loans — and just worry about school and my non-profit and excelling."
Akayla says her top three school choices were Villanova, Temple and Howard universities.
"Temple was amazing," she said, "and I was leaning toward Villanova, too. But I wanted to go to an HBCU since I was in the fourth grade."
That’s why Akaya says she chose Howard University.
"HU You-Know!" said Brown, reciting the university's rallying cry with a big smile and dressed in Howard colors.
"I know where I want to be, and Howard is the top HBCU for business," she said.
Brown says she has spent time on the Philadelphia Board of Education and has heard what students at majority schools deal with.
"I want to go to school and not worry about racism," she said, "and I want to connect with my roots."
Her mother, Angela Bandy, says she had Brown when she was a teenager in college. She says the young woman's father stepped up and helped so that she could finish school. Bandy says she built a tribe around Brown and her other three children — including her husband, brothers, community members and so many others.
"I am her biggest fan," Bandy said. "We have open communication — but it takes a village."
Bandy bought everything she could from the Howard University book store, including a Howard Mom t-shirt.
"I’m ready," says Bandy. "I can’t wait."
Bandy says she’s especially proud of her daughter for overcoming the challenges of epilepsy, saying she has learned to deal with it and never let it stop her.
"One time she had a seizure and had an event that day," says Bandy, “I told her — let's cancel. She said, "No, Mom. Give me an hour and I’ll be ready. She took a nap and when she got up she nailed it."
Bandy says Brown is determined and never lets anything stop her.
"Knowing what she’s going through and to see her still achieving — it makes me so happy," Bandy said.
"I would not be anywhere without my mom," Brown said. "She took my hand and led me and guided me. She is amazing."
And as Brown moves on to the next leg of her life’s journey, her mom will still be there.