uAspire First One – Erica Brown

By: Chris Loney | Thursday, January 17, 2013

Finances are the #1 barrier that keeps high-potential students across our country from continuing their education and earning a degree. As part of the uAspire First One Awards, uAspire will be featuring stories of individuals who are first-generation college graduates. Despite many challenges – often because of the high costs of college – they persevered and earned their college degree. Their stories show why it’s so important that education remains an affordable option to all, and how uAspire is committed to this effort.

The following story is about Erica Brown, Executive Director at City On A Hill Charter School in Roxbury.

For many kids, the hallowed grounds of Harvard College may seem out of reach – an amazing dream, but never a place to end up. Despite living just five miles away, Harvard also used to be out of reach for Erica Brown.

Erica grew up in Malden, MA. Her parents – her father a truck driver, her mother who stayed at home – valued education, but they did not know the process of applying to school and affording college. The idea of going to Harvard was more of a wish, and Erica did not have much of a plan to get there. But a life-changing experience at the Mass Advance Study Program at Milton Academy prepared Erica for the academic rigor and expectations for succeeding in college. She gained a better idea of how college life would be and developed a passion for literature and poetry. Eventually Erica would apply to Harvard, where she received a full-ride scholarship.

Even though Erica made it to Harvard – a wish becoming reality – she wondered if she truly belonged there. Her Boston accent was strong – and her dormmates thought it was “cute.” This proved to be a barrier for Erica, so she started to hide her accent to better fit in. Erica also saw few public school kids at Harvard, which put her at a distance from her private school peers. She found that they were far more well-read than her. Having a “little black dress” and travels around the world were a given for many of her peers. They were better versed in the social norms that governed life at Harvard.

But as Erica continued as a student, the reality of her belonging at Harvard sank in. Little moments – like cheering on the hockey team, seeing “Harvard” on the players’ uniforms – made Erica believe that her graduation would become a foregone conclusion. And while many students may wonder just how they were able to get in to a place like Harvard, Erica felt validated knowing that – despite finances and being a first-generation college student – she made it on her merit and hard work.

Erica has lived this same philosophy in her role as Executive Director at City on a Hill, a well-respected charter school in Roxbury. She never entertains the idea of “tracking” students and believes that if you treat someone as if they are “college material,” they will become college material. Erica works everyday empowering all students at City on a Hill – also just five miles away from Harvard – to reach their goal of a college degree.


BA, English American Literature and Language, Harvard College (1995)

MA, English Language Arts and Education, Tufts University (1997)


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