How One Email Changed a Life

Dennis was back on Grounds in late June and worked on all 10 sessions of AVU’s summer orientation for incoming freshmen and transfer students. He said he wanted to be there as a listening ear for new students, especially since he had just finished his freshman year at UVA. He could help.

“I also wanted to tell new students to be comfortable being uncomfortable” because change is inevitable, he said. “I came to UVA with an open mind, not trying to shield myself from people. Get involved and talk to everyone.

Endless Gratitude for a Loving and Supportive Mother

Now that Dennis is a fourth-year student, much of his time will be spent teaching students.

Thinking back to when he learned he had been made a Piedmont Scholar last year, he thinks of his mother, Michelle Washington. She was the first person he called when he received this email.

Washington, a single mother, raised Dennis and his two older sisters, Quamia and Quandra, in Charlottesville. “She did a great job. She is still a huge support and growing up we were in the church so that was our community. I have quite a large family of aunts and uncles, so they were always there too. Growing up, I had a very beautiful childhood.

Dennis says he was raised to give back and he thanks his mother for showing this example of love. “She’s so kind, so caring and so generous. And [she] just is always smiling and ready to help with anything. She’s just the focal point where I get her from.

“Anything he said about me, I would say about him,” Washington said. “He loves to teach. He likes talking to people. He just has the biggest heart. I’ve never met anyone like him in my entire life.”

Washington said she worried about her son when he was growing up because his father was not in her life. She pushed all her children to go to college.

“I told them — all my kids — you’re going to make something of your own,” she said. “A lot of young black men don’t have that masculine figure to look up to, or the people around them are successful because they play basketball or football. And I knew Quana wasn’t that kind of kid.

Dennis had puzzled looks as he told his male classmates, “No, I don’t want to play basketball or football. I want to be a teacher,” Washington said.

None of this ever bothered her son.

“He didn’t care what these people were saying. He held on and he did what he wanted to do,” Washington said. “He never said, ‘Maybe I can’t do this. Maybe I can’t go to college. He never said that once. He talked about this what he believed in, and that’s exactly what he did. I’m so proud of him.”

Look forward

Upon graduating in the spring, Dennis will enter his second year as an African-American instructor. According to the local curriculum, for every 122 students in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, there is only one African American teacher.

“The program provides professional, social and financial support for scholarship recipients,” he said. “It provides me with mentors and prepares me for my entry into the teaching profession. After graduating in May, I will be teaching in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area.

The second class of Piedmont Scholars from AVU was named this summer and enrolled last week. There are nine people, including three brothers and sisters. Dennis met some of the new researchers earlier this week at an orientation meeting.

“I just want to host them and be as helpful as possible while they acclimatize to UVA, like I did last year,” he said.

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