Virginia has created a scholarship program to give African American adults from Prince Edward County something they were denied as children: public education





"[...]Aldrena Thirkill doesn't know what happened to her. As an adult, she can remember surprisingly little of her life between 1959 -- when the schools closed, with bitter fanfare and flamboyantly racist rhetoric -- and 1964, when the county was grudgingly compelled to reopen public schools on an integrated basis. Five years of her life: lost. And so, Aldrena has begun to try to reconstruct what happened -- to her personality, her education, her family -- during this traumatic period of her early youth. She has done so [...], but also by writing, over and over, in academic paper after academic paper, what she can remember, hoping that with each new writing exercise, some forgotten fragment -- a scene, a person, a conversation -- will be unearthed. At 58, when many retired adults are taking up golf or gardening, she is taking English composition classes at Marymount University in Arlington, sitting beside classmates so young that segregation, to them, might as well be the Revolutionary War.

She is by no means alone in her effort. In the fall of 2005, Virginia began issuing academic scholarships to repair even a small portion of the harm done to at least 2,000 African American schoolchildren who suffered a particularly acute form of deprivation during the hard-fought transition to integrated schooling. The fund, known as the Brown v. Board of Education Scholarship Program, is an attempt to atone for the damage that Prince Edward -- with profound complicity from the state itself -- inflicted upon its most vulnerable citizens. The program pays the costs of a GED program or high school diploma for those who found jobs during the closings and may never have returned to school at all; it also pays for community college or an undergraduate or master's degree, up to $7,200 a year.

"It's difficult to start your life over when you are 58 years old, but we are never too old to learn and be filled with knowledge and wonder," says Ken Woodley, 49, editor of the Farmville Herald and the chief architect of the plan."There are people who see it as an opportunity to get a better job or go into business for themselves. I really believe that if someone discovers one author, one painter, their lives are enriched, and they are able to experience more of what life has to offer."



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