Back in 2014, things were really bad in Wilmington, Delaware. The FBI again ranked it the third-most-violent city among similarly sized urban areas in the country. Newsweek published an article, “Murder Town USA (aka Wilmington, Delaware),” imprinting a label the town has never managed to shake off.
This is important context as you read this story.
Alita Robinson, who just finished her first year at the University of Virginia, is from New Castle, Delaware, about five miles from Wilmington. She was just 14 years old at the height of Wilmington’s crime spike, enrolled at William Penn High School as a freshman.
While she and her family never personally experienced the violence, many in her circle did, and it created a haunting veil that was inescapable. “We were lucky, but I had friends who were affected,” she said.
An excellent student, Robinson was looking forward to going to college, but she had to forge that path largely on her own; her parents had not attended college. As far as she knew, her options were limited to the schools in her state: the University of Delaware, Delaware State University or a community college.
“I actually knew a UVA alum from my high school and I didn’t even think UVA was an option for me,” she said earlier this semester. That alumna was Robinson’s Advanced Placement Economics teacher, Adrienne Deakins, who graduated from the University in 2006 with a degree in psychology and minor in history.
“Alita is just a really awesome person,” Deakins wrote in an email. “She was a highly motivated, mature and future-oriented high school student who was great at creating opportunities for herself.
[During] her first semester [at UVA], she ventured to Madison House, the independent, nonprofit volunteer center for UVA students.
She was hoping to find something chess-related. When that didn’t pan out, she became intrigued by another volunteer opportunity called Rise Together, a UVA student-founded mentoring program that pairs UVA students with would-be, first-generation students at local schools. Robinson found her match and was soon traveling to Walton Middle School to share her college journey with younger students.
“When I found Rise Together [through Madison House], I felt like their initiative, and just talking about my experiences and topics like bullying, was important to [the students],” she said. “I thought it was a really great initiative that I was glad to be a part of.”