They arrived in Amherst as freshmen in 1965, just weeks after the Watts Riots, and started their senior year in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. For Jay Silverman, Fred Hoxie, Dick Aronson and their fellows in the Class of 1969, the times called for action to address the injustices and inequalities in society. A Better Chance gave them the chance to do just that.
Jay, Fred and Dick visited the Amherst ABC House on Reunion Weekend in May.
A Better Chance (ABC) is a national residential high school program that prepares academically talented students of color from underserved school districts for college and beyond. In 1968, the local community came together to bring the nation’s second ABC program to Amherst. In a show of support, the Class of 1969 chose to divert its yearbook funds to the fledgling operation. Consequently, theirs is the only class in modern college history without a yearbook.
For those involved in the decision, it was a relatively easy choice, albeit a controversial one. “It was a very short-term kind of idea,” recalls Fred, a student council representative, “but on the other hand, it was kind of remarkable that we trusted our judgment that much—that we had enough chutzpah to think that this might actually make a difference somewhere down the line.”
In its 40-year history, with strong support from the town of Amherst, Amherst Regional High School, the college and many others, more than 100 scholars have come through the Amherst ABC program; more than 95 percent have gone on to earn four-year college degrees (including seven Amherst College alums).
The ABC experience has had a lasting influence on the Class of 1969 as well. Jay, who tutored ABC students in writing, is now an award-winning community college professor of English. Fred went on to become a university professor and author, and he is one of the country’s leading scholars of Native American history. Dick became a pediatrician and children’s health advocate, and he is currently the director of a new center dedicated to inspiring a new generation of leaders in public health.
Still involved with the Amherst ABC, Dick sums up those days this way: “We came to light up our minds, to light up our communities and to light up the world.”
To learn more about Amherst’s campaign, Lives of Consequence; to nominate a friend or classmate whom you admire and would like to honor; or to read about other lives of consequence, please visit www.amherst.edu/campaign.