By Shirley Hawkins
LOS ANGELES — As a child, Angeles Echols-Brown dreamed of being an actress, conquering the silver screen and dazzling audiences from the Broadway stage.
After she moved from her Tennessee home to New York in search of fame, fortune and stardom, she was never able to forget the words of her mother.
“She would always say, ‘Education is the only way out of the projects,” Echols-Brown recalls. “She always stressed the value of education.”
Echols-Brown heeded her mother’s advice and enrolled in Cornell University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, with an emphasis in child development and human behavior.
After graduating and working in both New York and Los Angeles, Brown discovered her love of teaching.
“I loved tutoring young people,” Echols-Brown said. “I realized that when the acting and singing jobs were few and far in between, I could always find a teaching position.”
She found a job teaching at Trinity Lutheran, a small private school. “The principal at Trinity Lutheran asked if I would work with some students after school,” she said. Echols-Brown developed a program for inner-city students that continued to grow in popularity. It was then that Echols-Brown realized the enormous need for tutoring services for underserved students.
For more than 34 years, Echols-Brown has tutored thousands of underserved and at-risk children through her nonprofit organization Educating Young Minds. The organization has helped countless community youth to graduate from high school as well as to enroll and graduate from colleges and universities.
The nonprofit has a 100% high school graduation rate and 82% of its students have graduated from four-year colleges and/or universities.
Educating Young Minds students have graduated from Stanford, New York University, Cornell, UC Berkeley, Morehouse, Dillard, Tuskegee, USC, UCLA, University of Hawaii, Spelman, Drexel, Columbia, Howard University and UC Irvine, along with many other colleges and universities.
After moving to Los Angeles, Echols-Brown began tutoring two children after school in her one-room apartment.
“After I paid the first and last months’ rent and bought a few groceries, I started Educating Young Minds with $50 dollars,” Echols-Brown recalls of her early beginnings.
It wasn’t long before word of mouth of her tutoring service spread and parents were flocking to her door asking her to tutor their children. Within months, students were overflowing in her tiny apartment.
“The students found creative ways to find places to study,” Echols-Brown said. “One young lady would grab a pillow and do her homework in the bathtub. Another young man used to hunker down on my balcony to study. Some of the girls would find spots on my bed to do their homework. I tutored young people in my apartment for seven years.”
“After much prayer and contemplation I decided to make Educating Young Minds my life’s work,” she said.
Educating Young Minds now offers eight programs with the following collaborative partners: Educating Young Minds/Ray Charles Tutorial Enrichment program is available to students pre-kindergarten through 12th grade; Access No Excuse Early Learners Online Curriculum; College Access and Life Skills with SAT Prep; Duke Media Film production, GRX Immersive Lab Technology; Career Webinars with Industry Leaders, the Banks Computer Tech, Tech Leimert with training and paid summer internships and mentoring and counseling.
Located on Crenshaw Boulevard, Brown’s nonprofit continues to dedicate itself to helping the community.
“When COVID hit, some parents had lost their jobs and didn’t have Wifi or computers or laptops so that their children could do their homework,” Echols-Brown. “It was a very difficult time and we had to switch our programs to online learning. We also held a drive through where kids could pick up computers and laptops.”
Echols-Brown also continues to work with schools to help students who are having learning problems.
“We don’t just look at the academics,” she said. “If there is an emotional need or if there are things going on in the home, we take a holistic approach. Sometimes we have to meet with the student’s teacher and parents. Then we form a team to find a solution which involves the school, the parents, the teachers — all of us coming together.
“If you surround a child with love and support with family, educators and school support, it’s difficult for the negativity to enter the child’s world. Children feel encouraged and supported.”
Success stories from Educating Young Minds abound.
“There is a young woman named LaShia who entered our program as a teen,” Echols-Brown said. “She was very strong and opinionated and she would roll her head and her neck at me and would tell me what she would and would not do. I took this young lady in because her mother wasn’t going to give up on her child and asked me to work with her.
“We worked with her through her SAT training and her college prep courses and made sure she had all the courses she needed to get into college.
After working with LaShia and her mother for several years, LaShia graduated from high school with honors. She was accepted into a university and graduated with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and today she operates her own nonprofit.
“This young lady brought me roses three weeks ago and thanked me for my continued love and support,” Echols-Brown said.
Another young man named Themba had a wonderful father who was adamant about getting tutorial help for his son. Students were tutored until 10 or 11 o’clock at night in math, sciences and languages.
“This young man graduated from college and earned his law degree and he is now a brilliant young attorney giving back to his community. Recently, he and other Educating Young Minds alumni held a golf tournament that helped to raise funds for the organization,” Echols-Brown said.
“I am so proud of these kids because we continue to nurture and empower them and they return after they graduate to give back to their communities,” she added.
Echols-Brown is grateful for her staff and mentors who continue to support her efforts to educate young people. “Along with the volunteers, I have at least 22 staff members who are dedicated to this mission,” she said.
Echols-Brown is grateful for her board of directors, her husband Richard D. Brown, First AME Church and the Sojourner Truth Organization for their unconditional love, support and guidance.
Brown has been the recipient of hundreds of awards, including the KCET Local Heroes Award and KTLA’s Unsung Heroes Award.
She is gratified that she has been able to help so many young people succeed in life.
“At this point in my life, after all that I have gone through and seen, if I have impacted the life of at least one human being and was able to give back and transform a life, then it has been worth it,” she said. “I did it simply because there was a need. I know that God is looking down and saying, ‘Servant, well done.’”
Educating Young Minds can be reached at www.educatingyoungminds.org or by phone at (213) 487-2310.
Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at email@example.com.