REACH Memphis started after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination almost 50 years ago when a local businessman and a guidance counselor at a public school worked together to send one outstanding student to a summer prep program at Phillips Exeter Academy. Today, the program reaches over 340 high school students each year. REACH partners with preparatory schools and colleges across the United States to provide excelling students with summer educational experiences that expand their horizons. Students in the program spend their sophomore year preparing to travel and live away from home. During their junior and senior years, they participate in scholar groups based on interests (including STEM, business, healthcare, communication, leadership, education); are mentored by 171 volunteer coaches; and receive college readiness and preparedness counseling, all to help them reach their highest potential.

At the opening meeting of returning REACH students this year, Lisa, a manager at Hilton Worldwide and a REACH alumna and coach, talked to the students about how obstacles can be character-building. Lisa shares with us that, during her high school years, she held in her emotions when dealing with the illness of her mother. Because of that experience, Lisa was especially equipped to provide empathetic counsel to one of her REACH mentees. When that student, whose slipping grades and personality change suggested she was experiencing some trauma, broke down, Lisa was able to convince her to open up and to be there to listen when she did.

At the same orientation, Nicholas, a student at Fisk University where he is already serving as president of his freshman class, spoke about finding counsel at REACH. He advised his audience to lean on the community that REACH provides and that the program would take them anywhere they wanted to go. He tells us that he came from a neighborhood where his high school was failing and where gangs were thriving. REACH stood by him and helped him see that he could be great and do something great with his life; he says that became his motivation. He tried to be his best and brightest so he could go to the summer program at Phillips Exeter. He shares that he hopes to combine his passions for public speaking and helping people with his major in accounting to start a business to create educational opportunities for low income youth. He credits REACH with continuing the work of Dr. King by fostering youth like him to be great, to “be activists or to be the next lawyer, the next doctor, the next politician, the next president. Ultimately that will fuel the drive to create better lives in other people.”