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Meet Our Student Ambassadors!

This Fall we are excited to launch our Student Ambassador program! 

This program gives our students the opportunity to gain real world writing experience as they produce writing for the GUA website and newsletter. They will receive feedback, edits, and advice from our Graduate Assistant who is also an English MA student, Ashton Ray. Ashton has over five years of professional writing experience and after completing her master's at UAB, hopes to go on to get her PhD and eventually work as an English professor. This program is close to Ashton's heart and passions and she's excited to work with each of the students as they begin their own writing careers. 

The ambassador program was designed to help any GUA student with a passion and interest in writing get their start in professional writing. Each month, the students will be asked to write at least one article that will be published on the GUA website and featured in the newsletter. They'll write on topics that give us a peek into the life as a GUA student, allowing us to see how GUA is impacting the lives of those it was designed for, directly from their perspective. We hope that this experience will increasae the students' responsibility and interest in the world of writing. We're excited about where it's headed!

This month, we're excited to introduce you to our first class of ambassadors! 


 Meet Our Ambassadors

Jaliyah Robinson


My name is Jaliyah Robinson and I am from Union Springs, Alabama. I am currently in the 11th grade. My interests include reading, spending time with family and friends, learning new things, and traveling. I am a varsity cheerleader for my school. A fun fact about me is that I have a 4.2 GPA. My dream job is to become an anesthesiologist. A place I would love to visit would be Dubai. GUA has improved my life by granting me this amazing opportunity to be apart of this program. I am exciting to learn what this amazing program has to offer me!  


Maria Byrd


My name is Maria Byrd and I am an 11th grader at Southside High School in Selma Alabama. Some favorite things of mine include animals (any species), cheesecake, science and history. I am honored to be a part of this program. The things that I know that I am going to learn and what is expected from the program really excites me.


Edgerrin Moore


My name is Edgerrin Moore and I’m from Selma, Alabama. I attend Southside High School and I’m in the 11th grade. I’m a very hardworking and eager person. My favorite sports are basketball and football. My favorite food is lemon pepper wings. One day I planned to have my own company. Also one day I loved to visit Dubai. GUA has changed my life by giving me opportunities to succeed.


Maricela Castro

Maricela Castro

My name is Maricela Castro and I am very excited to be part of this program! I am a 16-year-old Latina and am currently an 11th grader at Bullock County High School. My hometown is Union Springs, AL. My interests are movies, animals, photography, self-improvement, art, music, and animations. I like all kinds of food. Fun fact, I do not like seafood at all! I do not know what is my dream job yet, but a place I’d love to visit is Acapulco, Mexico, because it is where my parents use to go all the time as kids. GUA has improved my life for giving me opportunities to improve my skills and preparing me for college.

Brishada Youngblood

Brishada Youngblood

My name is Brishada Youngblood. I’m from Union Springs, Alabama. I attend Bullock County High School. I am currently a junior. My interests are learning new things, maintaining my 4.2 GPA, and helping people. This year I plan on doing track and field. Something that’s interesting about me is that I do my best at everything I do. You will never see half work come from me. My favorite food is chicken and fries. My dream job is to become a nurse practitioner. I would like to visit Dubai. GUA has improved my life by offering the experience of going to university camps. This really opened a door because I could really see whether or not I want to attend that university.

Tahliah Wilfong

My name is Tahliah Wilfong. I'm sixteen years old. I'm from Spring Valley, New York but live in Union Springs, Alabama. My favorite colors are blue, black, grey, and white. I'm in the eleventh grade and attend Bullock County High School. My favorite hobbies are reading, writing, drawing, singing, dancing, and cooking. My dream job is to become a cardiologist. I’m interested in doing hair and exploring the world in so many different ways. Going places I have never been before. Sports I would like to play are basketball and track. A fun fact about me is that I'm a very nice and caring person. I do not like to see people fail. I like helping people make it to their next grade. My favorite foods are hot wings, fries, eggs, rice, and chocolate. The place I'd like to visit is Dubai. GUA has changed my life because I don't have to worry about how am I going to pay for the college funds and financial aid and other stuff.

If you know of a GUA student that would make a gret fit for our ambassador program, have them email Ashton Ray at avray@uab.edu. Stay tuned for the future writing from our incredible ambassadors!

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Black Belt Friday at Pickens and Greene County

We had another incredible Black Belt Friday on October 5th! We loaded up the bus and headed to Pickens and Greene County for our second Black Belt Friday trip of the year. This trip was a two-for-one, as we were able to take our incredible group of volunteers to visit both Aliceville High School and Greene County High School.

We started the morning at Aliceville High School (AHS) where the students put on a great program for us. The mayor of Aliceville, Marva D. Gipson, stopped by and offered our students an encouraging speech, going over a brief history of Aliceville and challenging our students to follow their dreams. Then, a number of the students performed, bringing smiles to every face in the room as we heard students read poetry, sing, and even dance! Our students had a chance to hear from our Let Us Make Man partners, Dr. Gerry White and his daughter Imani White. After the program, we split the students into groups with our volunteers where they did grade reflection and goal setting activities. Before we left AHS, our group was treated to a delicious snack prepared by our incredible staff and partners. We left for Greene County High encouraged and excited to connect with more students.

At Greene County High School (GCHS), we were greeted by a number of the GUA students before enjoying an incredible lunch prepared by our friends and partners at the school. We then were led to the gym for an assembly. During this time, we heard from GCHS students, the students heard from our LUMM volunteers, and other partners from Greene County. They also had the chance to hear from the special guest of the day, Dr. Charles Nash, the Vice Chancellor of the Alabama University System. Dr. Nash joined us all day and was able to offer encouragement to both our students and our volunteers! We’re so thankful he was a part of this Black Belt Friday. To end our time at GCHS, we spent time doing grade reflection and goal setting with our students, hoping to leave them feeling just as empowered as we know they are!

We have loved both of our Black Belt Friday trips this year and we can’t wait for the next one! On November 30, we’re headed to Tuskegee for our last trip of the semester. Interested in joining us? Click here to register!

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2nd Annual Future Proof Conference

On Saturday, September 29th, we hosted our Second Annual Future Proof Conference featuring Let Us Make Man. We welcomed nearly 500 10th and 11th grade students to UAB from the Black Belt, along with their parents, grandparents, teachers, guidance counselors, principals, and superintendents! It was an amazing day and we are so thankful to everyone who played a part in pulling it off.

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We’re specifically thankful to our presenters from Let Us Make Man. These men continue to show up to encourage, mentor, and connect with our students again and again. During this conference, the Let Us Make Man team put on a number of workshops for our students and the adults, all of which were a huge success!

On Saturday, our attendees headed to the workshops after a quick welcome and introduction to each of our speakers. They were divided into groups and sent to one of four workshops offered by members of the Let Us Make Man Team. The workshops were: "In My Feelings" Mental Health Workshop taught by Christopher Bass, PhD, "Restoring the Family" taught by Gerry White, PhD, "Awakening the Genius in our Youth" taught by Keene Walker, and "Mind Your Business: The Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship" by Eldridge Washington. Each of our attendees was able to participate in two of these workshops, one before lunch and one afterwards.

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During the lunch hour, we separate the male and female students and sent them into our Chat and Chew workshops while the adults were sent into their own Chat and Chew session. The girls’ sessions were a youth self Esteem & self love entitled, "I Said What I Said” presented by Imani White, MPH, a criminal justice session entitled, "Examining Potholes of Being a Ride or Die Chick" presented by Celeste White, PhD, and a session on success entitled, "Are You Lit? Learning to Let Your Light Shine & Accomplish Your Goals" presented by Rosalind Gregory-Bass, MD. These sessions proved to be a great encouragement to our GUA ladies as they learned from Ms. White, Dr. White, and Dr. Bass.


The boys Chat and Chew workshops included a session focused on critiquing our culture entitled, "Drugs & Hip Hop: Is it Shaping our Identity, Purpose and Direction?" taught by Keene Walker and Doug Evans, a session on youth leadership titled "M.A.D.E. Life: Why Good Leaders Live Good Lives" presented Eldridge Washington and Fred Parham, and a session on manhood development entitled, "Examining the Manhood Brand" presented by Dr. Christopher Bass and Jarrod Grant. The guys were both challenged and encouraged by these presentations, and were definitely left with new things to think about and ways they can grow as leaders.

While the students were in their chat and chew sessions, the adults were in a session taught by

Dr. Gerry White, LMSW, entitled, "Parent Involvement -- A Paradigm Shift". This session focused on the way that parent involvement can improve the lives of both students and parents. We hope that what Dr. White taught can be passed on from the attending adults to the ones unable to join us, and that his lessons are reflected in GUA parent participation!

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We are so proud of how the day turned out, and we can’t wait to bring everyone together for our next conference. GEAR UP Alabama exists to equip and grow our students as both students and thinkers, and we hope our conferences act as a place for them to grow as both!

Thank you to everyone who played a role in the day. We are so grateful to our presenters: Dr. Gerry White, Dr. Celeste White, Dr. Christopher Bass, Dr. Rosalind Bass, Mr. Eldridge Washington, Mr. Fred Parham, Mr. Keene Walker, Mr. Doug Evans, Ms. Imani White, Mr. Jarrod Grant and Mr. Eric Morgan.

This day ran smoothly thanks to our awesome volunteers: Dr. Michele Jean Sims, Dr. Calvin Briggs, Dr. Larrell Wilkinson, Micah Briggs, Elijah Briggs, John Jeremiah White, Christopher Bass, Jr., Rhiannon Hurst, Regina Bedgood, and the wonderful B-Women: Kyrstin Stanley, Courtney McMillan, Shakonzie Alexander, Chasity Bumpers, Noel Sanders, Alexia Hillman, Kirsten Holliman, Essence King, Tyler Mantosh, Mikaela Munoz, Asia Daniels, and Dominque Nash. Thanks to Alabama Possible and College Admissions Made Possible!

The Hill Student Center was the perfect venue and the staff was beyond helpful leading up to, and throughout the day! Sodexo provided a great breakfast, and Panera, a filling lunch!

Special thanks to the families and administrators for allowing our students the opportunity to participate in this day, and to all the GUA staffers and chaperones that welcomed the students from: Robert C. Hatch, Francis Marion, Selma, Greene County, Pickens County, Aliceville, Gordo, Brewbaker Tech, Lee, Lanier, Jeff Davis, Park Crossings, Carver, BTW Magnet, Pike County, Goshen, Hale County, Greensboro, Wilcox Central, The Calhoun, Central-Lowndes, BTW, Notasulga, and Bullock County.

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Black Belt Friday at Pickens County High School

On September 21, we took our first Black Belt Friday trip to visit our students at Pickens County High School (PCHS). 

Our team, comprised of our GUA central office staff, UAB students, and UAB faculty and staff, including the new Dead of the School of Education, Dr. Autumn T Cyprès, left UAB early that Friday morning in route to Pickens County.

Once arriving at PCHS, we were greeted by the amazing group of GEAR UP Alabama 11th grade students. We were treated to a talent show put on and emceed by the students. We got to hear from a choir, experience the piano talents of one student, hear the drumline, and watch the cheerleaders do their thing. It was the perfect way to start our day!

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After the talent show, we heard from Dr. Tonya Perry, our Principal Investigator, and Dr. Samantha Briggs, our Project Director, Dr. Cyprès, and two members of Let Us Make Man, Jarrod Grant and Doug Evans, as they encouraged our students before our mentoring sessions. Each of these speakers had a different and special message for our students. For the mentoring sessions, we were able to pair each PCHS student with a UAB volunteer as they did grade reflection activities and worked together to set practical goals for the school year. As the students headed to class at the end of our mentoring sessions, we were taken on a tour of the school by the PCHS Team Leader, Ms. Beth Hickman.

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We spent the second half of our day at the Pickens County Career Center. This center is where a number of our students spend their days, as it is a place where they’re able to attend a number of different classes to assist them in their career journey. It was at the Career Center that we were treated to a great lunch provided by West Alabama Bank. We also had the chance to hear stories from a number of GUA students about how GUA has impacted their lives. There was hardly a dry eye in the room as we heard students talk about the opportunities afforded to them, and the dreams they’ve been able to build, because of GEAR UP Alabama. This time, in addition to the whole day, serves as a great reminder of why we do the work that we do. 

To end our day in Pickens County, the students gave us a tour of the career center. We got to see the different kinds of work and skills they learn while there, and we were more than impressed. It was a great end to a great day, and a great kick off to our 2018-2019 Black Belt Friday trips. We can’t wait to see what the other trips will hold!

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Junior League of Montgomery 32nd Annual College & Career Night

The Junior League of Montgomery hosted the 32st annual College and Career Night on September 17th at the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.  Approximately 5,000 students and parents attended this event from various counties all over Central Alabama. College and Career Night is a unique opportunity for high school students and their parents in the River Region to explore college and career possibilities, gather scholarship information, and learn about financial aid opportunities. Representatives from over 105 colleges, universities, technical, military and vocational schools from across the country were available to meet with students and parents to answer questions and distribute information. Students in attendance registered for an opportunity to enter to win a $500 scholarship from the Central Alabama Community Foundation. The Junior League of Montgomery gave away a $500 scholarship, the winner is Jared Jones, a Gear Up student at Park Crossing.

JaredJonesPictured is Jared Jones, 11th grade GUA student from Park Crossing High School.
With Jared, from left to right, is Alesia Ruffin, MPS IMPACT teacher and Junior League Mongomery Member,
Dorris Lee, Site Facilitator PCHS, Dr. Ivey, Principal of Park Crossing,
and Jennifer Rogers, Site Facilitator at PCHS

 Gear Up was fortunate to be a part of this event as an outreach to our Montgomery school parents. Gear Up was represented by Site Facilitators, Team Leaders and teachers from every school in Region 2.  Several schools promoted this free event by sending home flyers, using social media and the call out system with their school. Students and parents were able to speak with Gear Up representatives and ask questions about the Gear Up program. It also gave Gear Up an opportunity to promote upcoming test prep, recap camp experiences with parents and network with Colleges and Universities in our area.



Parents were also able to take advantage of 2 free Financial Aid Seminars provided by the Junior League of Montgomery. This session topics were:” How to apply for Financial Aid” and” Who is Eligible” and additional recourses to acquire information. For several families with possible first generation college students this resource is invaluable and provides educational opportunities for both parents and students. 


Submitted by Jennifer Rogers, Site Facilitator Park Crossing High School

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