"America's Got Talent" Star on Campus for ASPIRE

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ASPIRE June 2023 Brandon best (2).JPG
Brandon Leake at ASU's Abernathy Hall (photo credit: David Campbell/ASU)

ASPIRE Fundraiser's Keynote Speaker Brandon Leake, "America's Got Talent" Winner 

By Kenneth Mullinax/ASU 

The Alabama State University ASPIRE (Amazing Students Putting in Resilient Efforts to Stay in School) Program hosted a fundraiser on June 23, featuring Brandon Leake as the keynote speaker. Leake, who was the winner of the fifteenth season of the nationally acclaimed TV show - "America's Got Talent," (A.G.T.) is also a spoken word poet, educator and motivational speaker. The event was held in the auditorium of ASU's Ralph D. Abernathy College of Education, and had more than 200 people in attendance, explained ASPIRES founder and director, Cynthia Handy. 

"Our kids and the audience had such a wonderful time from 4:30 p.m. until around 8 p.m., and a great deal of the fun-time credit goes to Brandon Leake, who led a portion of the program that we called ‘Chat and Chew,’ which consisted of Brandon doing what he does best, telling fable-like true stories and acting them out," Handy said. "With us, he explained what his life was like growing up, and he stated that despite your socioeconomic status in life, the most important of all of life's lessons is having a plan, studying your academic subjects and completing your education, never giving up and that one's goals and dreams do not happen overnight, but must be constantly worked on to come true." 

The fundraiser's goal was to enhance and support ASPIRE's after-school and summer camp mission to keep Montgomery Public School System (MPS) students interested in staying in school, making good grades, graduating with a high school diploma and attending college ("hopefully ASU" quipped Handy) or attend a community or trade school. She added that one other important aspect of ASPIRE is the opportunity to share on "life lessons" and provide counseling that help students stay out of trouble. 


Leake started his “America’s Got Talent” journey by earning the show’s coveted “Golden Buzzer" award from longtime AGT judge, Howie Mandel. Leake's act consisted of doing a spoken word dialogue about his sister who died, and about his father, mother and daughter. Crowned as the champion of the 15th season (September 23, 2020), he was awarded $1 million in cash, a new Kia Stinger and the opportunity to star in a show at a world-famous Las Vegas hotel. He has performed in 36 states around the country and overseas with his Dark Side Tour to promote his published poetry and his album called "Deficiencies: A Tale from My Dark Side," which is “rooted in transparency and healing.

He is a daycare center teacher and the founder and CEO of "Called to Move,” an organization that helps youth through poetry. Leake is from Stockton, California, is married and has a young daughter. 


Handy explained that ASU's ASPIRE officially began on the University's campus in the fall of 2010. The program is funded by a Title III grant and donations from the public. 

"We provide our ASPIRE students with a great deal of academic assistance because we know that an education is among the most important resources a student must obtain to succeed in life," said Handy. "By providing them with ASU undergraduate student-scholar mentors, we are able to help them with homework and with understanding those academic subjects with which they have difficulty. In addition to offering assistance with classes, we also inform and instruct them on the importance of goal setting, establishing vision boards on what to do in order to achieve a goal, and on having a firm foundation in moral and ethical life lessons, which helps round them out to be good students, citizens and, one day, great spouses and parents." 


Handy reminisced about the first ASPIRE cohort that consisted of just 32 middle-to-high school students. Now, the program averages more than 100 students annually, and with COVID-10 waning, Handy expects the number of participants could double. 

"Our reputation and good work has resounded around the Montgomery school system to such an extent that our success has forced us to at times put children on a waiting list to join," Handy exclaimed. "Of course, the COVID pandemic caused us to first suspend and then scale it back, but our numbers are again on the rise." 


In addition to offering educational assistance in academic subjects and life lessons to last through adulthood, ASPIRE also offers field trips that serve a dual purpose. 

"Our field trips -- we recently took the kids to The Huntsville Space and Rocket Center -- are both fun and educational because we want these kids, many of whom are from financially challenged homes, to see things they might not have experienced unless they were enrolled in our program. We hope that they will take something away from the experience, which might teach a lesson in life or inspire them to reach out and work just a little harder to do well in school so they might obtain a dream," she explained. 

The program also includes community projects that help students to learn the value of hard work and service to others. 

"Later this summer, our students have been approved by the Montgomery Park and Recreation Department to help both to clean up and beautify the city's Clark Street Park, which will give them a life lesson of the nobility of labor," Handy said.  

Handy encourages donations to the program to help serve local students.

"Most of all, I ask that you pray for us to better help our students and lift-up the children in our program. If you have some spare change or big money, please remember us and help us help God's most awesome creation, a child." 


ENROLLIf parents, guardians or school counselors are interested in enrolling students from grades 6-12 in ASPIRE's Fall after-school program, please visit the ASPIRE page soon (before it reaches maximum enrollment capacity) on the ASU Homepage (www.alasu.edu) or by calling the ASPIRE office at 334-604-5371. 

DONATIONSTo make a donation (from $10 on up) to help make a positive change in a child's life, visit asuaspire.com or call 334-604-5371. 

News media contact: Kenneth Mullinax, 334-229-4104.