Adrienne Simpson was a Sociology major from Philadelphia with a departmental GPA of 3.85 (cumulative 3.66). In addition to her fine scholastic record and numerous public service activities, she served as Musical Director and President of the
Princeton U. Gospel Ensemble.
Here is what people in the Princeton University community had to say about Adrienne. "This young woman is bound to make valuable and significant
contributions in the public service area." "Adrienne provides stellar leadership.… She has the ability to recognize problems and then bring thoughtful solutions to the table." "Adrienne has excellent work ethics.…" "She is well-organized, thorough, and a pleasure to work with.…" "She is dedicated to making sure the voices of at-risk youth are heard and would bring great passion and experience to the [choir] work…." "If I had to rank Adrienne among those talented students with whom I've had the pleasure of working, she would clearly be in the top 5 %."
Adrienne devised an imaginative project, which she titled "Lift Every Voice," using music as a means of creating a college readiness program for at-risk youths (grades 6-8) in Philadelphia. It was sponsored by the Neighborhood (formerly Northwest)
Interfaith Movement, a non-sectarian alliance of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian and Muslim congregations and faith institutions who collaborate on human welfare and social justice programs, that was looking to expand its programming to include mentorship of inner city youth.
Northwest Philadelphia was Adrienne's home turf, where she grew up and saw first-hand the realities of the streets, and she very much wanted to give back to her
community. In her words at the time, "Many of the young people with whom I ate lunch and played during recess are currently either dead, in prison, or stuck in a cycle of poverty and devastation…. “As someone who grew up in Philadelphia and has seen [this] first hand, I know that children need a program like ’Lift Every Voice’…. They need to be able to see someone who grew up down the street from them but who also went to Princeton…. They need to know that they too can succeed in life and most importantly they need to know how to go about this.”
The central feature of Adrienne's project was to form a choir that rehearses and puts on concerts. But at the same time, she would be trying to engage students with
their schools and give them a stronger foundation to prepare for college. This would
include making available SAT information, college tours, guidance on how to apply, and (to inspire them) lectures by adults who made bad choices but later turned themselves around.
Class of 2008
The Executive Director of NIM enthusiastically endorsed Adrienne's project. "Her desire to use music as a way to strengthen both skills and self-esteem of at risk youth so that they are better prepared to pursue their studies beyond high school is unique and creative."Things didn’t turn out quite as Adrienne planned. Here is her own description of the experience.
“As you know my project proved very challenging and I ended up having to deal with several unforeseen obstacles, such as a sponsoring organization that had too much going on at the time to prioritize my project and give me the support I needed.
“Although the Lift Every Voice program did not turn out as originally imagined, it was a tremendous learning experience and several positives came out of my creation of the project. When I originally created the program, I expected to work with students in Northwest Philadelphia, the area from which I hailed. However, a lack of attendance (despite continuously expressed interest by local schools and community groups) caused me to rethink my direction in the middle of the year. Instead of just giving up on the program entirely, I revamped my vision and focused more on the academic side of the program. I also moved the program from a local church in Northwest Philadelphia to a different location in West Philadelphia. With the new location and a new sense of direction, I recruited some local student groups from schools like Chestnut Hill College and Temple to volunteer with one-on-one tutoring for the kids and chaperoning for a college tour.
“Though the program did not go as planned, I felt like I was still able to impact the lives of children. One Northwest Philadelphia middle school liked the idea of combining music with higher education so much that they later informed me that they were independently looking to strengthen their music programs and divert funding so that music education would not be lost despite budget cuts. Additionally, I was able to mentor a great group of children, some of whom are now applying to college. I still receive e-mails from them and visit them whenever I am in the area to give advice and check up on their progress. The lessons that I learned through the ups and downs of my Reach Out '56 fellowship were invaluable and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity that the fellowship provided me with.
“After completing my fellowship, I decided to take the skill set that I had learned in college and with my fellowship into the field of law and matriculated at Harvard Law School. While at Harvard, I have been an active member of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the nation's oldest student-run legal services organization. As a student attorney at the Legal Aid Bureau I represent low-income clients in family court and also in some benefits cases. Though the type of public service that I engage in at Harvard is different in type than that which I enjoyed at Princeton and during my fellowship, it follows the basic intent behind my Reach Out '56 fellowship–to empower under-served communities through service.
“I am proud to have been a Reach Out '56 fellow and am also excited to see all the new changes being implemented to the program. These changes will allow students with a more diverse array of interests to pursue their passion for public interest. Looking back on my experience, I think I am most grateful for the flexibility that the fellowship gave me in pursuing a public interest project that I was passionate about. I never felt like I was alone, but I was allowed to find my own way and figure out how to rebound when things did not go as planned. I am so grateful for the experience that Reach Out gave me and cannot wait to see a new generation of fellows engage in innovative public interest projects.”
On May 1, 2011, Adrienne and her husband became parents to a six pound, seven ounce baby girl named Amara Mae Gittins. As far as we know, this is the first offspring of one of our Fellows. Congratulations, Adrienne!