Hands on: Scholars get Mallory treatment

When Mike Mallory was growing up in Madison County, schools were still segregated, and racism was a daily reality. "Every time you would want to forget you were black, someone would remind you," Mallory says now. "I figured it was their problem, and I was not going to let it be my problem."

Four decades later, the world has changed, but Mallory is teaching that same "get-up-and-go" philosophy to a new generation of African-American young people. And he has found perhaps one of the best positions in the country to do so.

Mallory is the director of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, a private scholarship program that since its creation in 1996 has become the premier college scholarship program for African-American students in the country.

The program grew out of dialogues between Mallory, then University of Virginia minority recruiting director, and Anthony Pilaro, a UVA grad who founded a similar program for UVA minority students.

Every year the Charlottesville-based Ron Brown program awards a four-year $10,000-per-year grant to 20 students who show high academic promise, extreme financial need, and a proven commitment to serving their communities.

The proven commitment part is key, says Mallory. Ron Brown scholars have formed groups to combat violence or foster diversity in their high schools, worked as peer mediators or tutors for refugee children, or, in one case, served as a youth ambassador to Russia.

That's despite their own hardships. Some are orphans, or were homeless, or had parents in jail. Yet these same kids rank at the top of their high school classes and are accepted to schools like Harvard and Princeton.

For Mallory, granting the money is just the beginning of the process. The program also provides local mentors and money for summer internships as well as offering a summer leadership conference. Mallory points out internship and graduate program possibilities and helps students with the problems facing first-generation college-goers.

"People say, 'These kids are so talented. You should just be able to give them money and let them go,' "Mallory says. "But what kid wants to be let go?"

Mallory should know. He grew up in a two-room house, the fifth of 10 children. His father, who worked in a sawmill, died when Mallory was 13. When he was accepted to UVA, Mallory became the first person in his family to go to college.

"It's amazing how many [UVA grads] say, 'When I had a problem, I went to Mike and he helped me,'" says John Peoples, president of Global Lead Management Consulting in Baltimore. Peoples met Mallory as a student at UVA.

"At his core," says Peoples, "helping extremely talented students find their way is the essence of Mike Mallory."

Mike Mallory