Brian Taylor to Highlight WJNA Meeting, Recruiting for “Summer of a Lifetime”
By Donald Gilpin
Business innovator, education leader, and former professional basketball player Brian Taylor will be featured at the next Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood Association (WJNA) meeting on May 20.
Taylor, a Princeton University basketball legend and 1984 graduate now based in Los Angeles, will be introducing and recruiting for his Summer of a Lifetime Program (SOAL U), which will be held this August on the Princeton University campus.
”I’m thrilled to officially launch SOAL U this summer,” he said. “We are dedicated to helping a diverse group of students develop leadership skills with the assistance of the community of Princeton, as well as Princeton University professors who helped develop the program.”
Starting with 50 students in a smaller daytime pilot program last summer, SOAL U is on a growth trajectory with spots for 100 high school students this summer: 50 ninth graders coming for four days and three nights in early August and another 50 10th, 11th, and 12th graders coming for a two-week session later in the month.
The students will be staying at the Princeton Theological Seminary and taking a range of courses taught by Princeton professors and others and focusing on science, math, writing, entrepreneurship, and more.
“They’re going to have the experience of a lifetime,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be an incredible summer.” Taylor, who has led similar initiatives in the Los Angeles area, continued, ”With the pandemic, kids have gotten behind, and we need to accelerate them during the summer — expose them to education and have them believe. We call it ‘social capital,’ which is about experiences that they would never have if we didn’t provide this opportunity for them.”
Taylor emphasized that he is excited to have WJNA President Leighton Newlin involved as an adviser on the program. “There are still places available, with spots reserved for kids from Princeton, Trenton, and the local area,” he said. For more information, contact Taylor at (818) 378-9817 or email@example.com.
A WJNA press release notes that SOAL U is “designed to develop STEM leadership through an immersion experience guided by Princeton professors.” It continues, “The goal is to provide students with hands-on projects to educate them on experiential learning methods used to strengthen students’ appreciation and consideration of career options in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” Students are drawn from diverse socioeconomic, cultural, geographic, and racial backgrounds.
Taylor, who grew up in Perth Amboy, won national acclaim on his high school basketball team and in his years at Princeton, where he scored 1,239 career points in just two varsity seasons. He left after junior year to play 10 years in the American Basketball Association and National Basketball Association before returning to Princeton to finish his degree in politics with a certificate in African American Studies in 1984.
After graduation he worked in business, then moved into education as a teacher, coach, and administrator. He was a founding board member of the Inner City Education Foundation, a system of Los Angeles charter schools.
“We had 15 schools and more than 4,000 kids in the toughest part of LA,” he said. “We changed the academic culture for Black and brown kids who had forgotten that they were capable of doing anything. We changed their lives.” Taylor then went on to start his own company, SOAL U.
He described the event that inspired his vision. “It changed my life when I was 15 and I went to Lawrenceville prep for a summer program. I had a great time. I took two courses. One was a reading course reading the great books and improving my reading comprehension, and a writing course. I met kids from all around the country. It had an unbelievable impact on my life.”
He continued, “When I retired from running schools, I said I want to run that program. I want to do the same type of program and I want to do it at Princeton.”
Taylor described his SOAL U program as “College 101 for high school kids — it’s a tremendous opportunity for them.”
The May 20 WJNA meeting will take place at the First Baptist Church on John Street and Paul Robeson Place from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.
In additional news from the WJNA, Newlin noted that the documentary film The Witherspoon-Jackson Neighborhood: Keeping History Alive will have its premiere at the Nassau Film Festival at 1 p.m. on May 20 at the Princeton Garden Theatre.
Two young local filmmakers, Nick Kochmann and Patrick MacDonald, have created a documentary about the history of the neighborhood, using the WJNA Welcome Weekend as a backdrop.