Angeles Echols Brown refers to the kids of Educating Young Minds as her "babies." And when her digital platform Access/No Excuse launches, she'll be able to educate them from preschool all the way through college and into the job search.
Since its start nearly 30 years ago, EYM has grown from a one-woman operation run out of Echols Brown's one-bedroom apartment into a multifaceted nonprofit that has helped more than 3,500 at-risk students excel thanks to tutoring and support, both academic and emotional.
Raised by a single mother in Memphis, Echols Brown credits her faith, and the help of her mother and others - "whatever she couldn't provide, she kept us surrounded by people who could help us" - for her admission to Cornell University. As a premed student who loved the arts, she laughs, "I didn't go to Cornell to do this - I wanted to be a singing physician."
A role in the NBC made-for-TV movie She Knew Too Much brought Echols Brown to L.A., but her planned roommate changed her mind, leaving the would-be actress homeless and in need of employment. She became a teacher.
She found students who needed tutoring, and soon, she recalls, "I had kids in the bathtub, one sitting on the toilet seat, in my bed!" Students couldn't take their textbooks home from school, so she went to schools that were throwing away books, climbing the fence if necessary to get them out of the trash.
After six years of tutoring, grateful parents chipped in to send her home to Memphis for Christmas. On the plane, "still trying to look like a movie star," she says with a laugh, she sat next to a multimillionaire. They got to talking, and a few months later he stopped by - and found her in her apartment full of kids, teaching them, even cooking for them. His donation let her move to a bigger, dedicated space.
Thus was born Educating Young Minds, now in a Koreatown office tower that has seen better days.
Finding a bigger building - one she can buy - is at the top of Echols Brown's to-do list, along with launching the digital platform Access/No Excuse within a year. It will provide EYM tutoring and career counseling online.
Of course, that will require money. "We've received grants from $5 to $1 million," she says. "Publicity is great, but it only gets me more kids. I need the funding! I get tired of increasing this waiting list."
In addition to after-school and Saturday tutoring and a summer program, EYM offers college scholarships. Echols Brown says she'll be writing checks for 52 students this year - an investment that pays off, with 94 percent of EYM students graduating from college.
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And many of the young people she's helped return the favor: Of her 34 staff members, nine are EYM graduates, including Todd Chisom, who's creating the Access/No Excuse interface.
Now 57, Echols Brown says she'd like to think about retiring. But first she wants EYM programs in East L.A., North Hollywood, South Central - "and I'd love to take it to Mississippi!" She's willing to share her ideas with LAUSD - if she doesn't have to deal with the politics. "I would like to move 10,000 kids annually - academically, emotionally and financially, in both digital and nondigital worlds."
The program can run by itself, she says, freeing her to "put on my suits and dresses, meet people, get EYM out there." Because when she tells her story, and talks about her "babies," she's pretty hard to resist.