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Shine Up: Advancing Disadvantaged Students and Diversifying Professions

November 28, 2017

Kiara Vaughn is a 3L at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the founder of Shine Up, LLC. 

Imagine growing up in a city where your bedtime lullaby is often loud music and police sirens. You live in one of many apartment complexes, and have gotten to know a good deal of your neighbors because they often watch you while your single parent is off doing everything they can to provide for your family. Over time, these neighbors become a part of your family, too.

Imagine walking to school with your mother and having to dodge as a man with a bloody machete runs past you. When you come home, you go to the local bodega to get some after school snacks, having to walk past the memorial of a schoolmate you never really got to know because their life was taken by gang violence. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is not something new to you. In fact, just a week before you and your mother had to hide in her car as gun shots from a passing car came unexpectedly.

School remains your escape. While you may not have the best resources available to you, you have the grit and determination that you’ve learned from surviving. You have the potential to do more.

That story is a small picture of what life was like for me growing up. It wasn’t as bad as mainstream media paints it out to be. Yes, there was violence and heartache from time to time, but there was also an incredibly strong sense of community. For me, it was my community – my mother, certain teachers and community leaders, and some friends – that helped me to get to where I am today. With this network, I was able to take my grit, determination, and drive and turn it into success.

I was lucky to have that community in my corner, overpowering everyone who said that because of where I was born or the color of my skin, I couldn’t amount to anything more. And it is my pleasure and honor to join the ranks of organizations that are forming this community for disadvantaged children to help them achieve their dreams.

Shine Up, LLC is a benefit enterprise with the mission of advancing under-represented and marginalized high school students, and diversifying professions. In 2018, we will be starting our pilot program in Philadelphia, focusing on the legal and medical professions. Though these professions serve diverse populations, they are some of the least diverse themselves. As such, there is limited representation for marginalized students. At Shine Up, we believe that you can’t be what you can’t see, and that if we really want to help solve these issues, we have to strengthen the pipeline into these professions – starting early and supporting that child through every step of the way.

Our model has two sets of programming in order to achieve this goal. The Shine Academy will be a two-day intensive program with panels and hands-on workshops for the scholars that allows scholars to get access to tips and resources for succeeding in both their educational and professional endeavors. In addition to our partner organizations, there will also be student advocates providing tips, encouragement, and skills such as essay writing to help scholars prepare to take the next step in their education. The Academy is also a place where we envision collaboration with other organizations in the field to provide a well-rounded program for our scholars. In short, we see this as a space where scholars can interact with and learn from both personal advocates and professionals. Contact information for all participants of the Academy will be made available so that scholars can know who to reach out to in the future should they have questions.

The Internship and Mentorship Program will be incorporated into already existing internship programs at our partner organizations. Scholars will work part time (about 24 hours) for 5 weeks and will be given a stipend of $1000 each to help them afford transportation, attire, and have some money left over for themselves. The goal of this part of the program is to give the students exposure to this environment and build their resume.

It is for this reason that introducing them into a professional environment is crucial. Simply by showing up, going to lunch with other associates or partners, and shadowing attorneys to court or doctors to patient visits, scholars are going to gain social capital from things as small as “what do I wear in this environment” to skills as big as “how do I network and interact with people in this environment?”

When we are talking about students who again don’t have anyone in their circle to represent this to them, that takeaway alone is absolutely critical, and something that will be unique to this program. Finally, as part of this program, scholars will be paired with a mentor. This mentor will be there to help and encourage them over the course of the summer, and beyond.

With this programming, students will gain access to resources and experience that would have not been readily accessible before. It takes a village, and Shine Up is excited to do its part to help advance disadvantaged students so that they can have the power to make the change we all want to see in the world.