A Personal Promise


By Brett Hoover

Reading this story of Promise, which posted in the Dayton Daily News Monday, was a bit personal.

Not only is this Promise Scholar — Mia DeBrill (above with her mentor Pam Smiga) — now enrolled at the University of Dayton, making her my fellow Flyer, but it reminded me of my youth.

That’s because my father served the University of Dayton for a quarter century, most of it overseeing admissions, financial aid and scholarships. His approach was unlike anything that had been seen. He’d come to the University as a successful football coach, but had to look for greater stability once he had an unexpected third child (me).

A series of hard-fought recruiting victories made administrators take notice and wonder if he might be the person to attack a sagging enrollment. In his switch from athletics to admissions he kept his football approach. Competing wasn’t enough. “To Jim,” said the school’s chief financial officer, “the idea was to go out and win.”

The disruption turned UD’s fortunes. In an era where many private schools suffered declining enrollment, Dayton experienced double-digit increases.

And with all the things he oversaw, perhaps the thing that drew his deepest interest were the scholarship opportunities for students from the City of Dayton. Like many cities, Dayton was built with segregation in mind. The westside of Dayton — separated from downtown by the Great Miami River — was designed to isolate the area’s low-income black residents.

The University of Dayton — one of three Marianist colleges in the United States — sits on the other side of town, a neighborhood of working-class whites on one side and old-money blue blood families on the other.

While I failed to realize, when I was younger, that the school was not a welcoming place for many minorities, I am happy to report that my alma mater has worked to address that into the 21st century. An innovative partner program — the Dayton Early College Academy — has been established across the street.

It also brings me joy to know that UD partners with the Montgomery County Ohio College Promise, which is funding Mia DeBrill’s education. Being there for her — and others to come — might just be more meaningful than providing funds.

External resources and initiatives have changed outcomes since the 1970s and 1980s, when my father was among the few who knew the challenges of black students and the shortcomings of the university. My father recognized that lack of diversity on campus — in a city with more than 40 percent black residents — was both a sore spot for both the city and the university and a drawback for all the students.

He didn’t want to lose any black students. He took all the knowledge and resources he had to make things work for them. Sometimes it wasn’t enough, but I would also hear from my fellow classmates about the difference he made. My dad never stopped being a football coach at heart. There was nothing fluffy about him. Yet I’d hear stories from folks who had stories about his warmth. I eventually had to stop questioning them about it.

James Hoover passed away 12 years ago. Not long after that I quit my job to follow the passion he instilled in me. Most days, at some point, I talk with a first-generation-to-college student or a parent, helping them navigate the difficult process of getting to and through college. I suspect finding joy in that must be in my DNA.

And I want to wish Mia, my fellow Flyer, all the luck in the world!

Brett Hoover — who formerly served as the Associate Director of the Ivy League — is a co-founder of Cities of Promise.

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