A Family Transformed by AileyCamp

Brenda Scott shares the life-changing impact AileyCamp has had on six of her grandchildren.
July 7, 2023

“They say it takes a village to raise a kid, we’ve had seven! I don’t think we could have done it without AileyCamp’s help.”

By Krista Thomas, Cal Performances’ Associate Director of Communications

This June marked the start of another year of Cal Performances’ Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp, a powerful full-scholarship dance and personal development program conceived by Alvin Ailey himself. Over the course of six weeks, campers ages 11–14 take dance classes in modern, West African, jazz, and ballet; as well as in creative communication and personal development, delving into topics such as goal-setting, conflict management, media literacy, positive self image, and leadership development. This program is known for its ability to transform participants, and Brenda Scott, a longtime proponent of the program, has seen this firsthand—six times!

Brenda and her partner Kathryn have been together for over 20 years, and in that time they’ve raised seven of their grandchildren, six of whom have attended AileyCamp as a household “rite of passage.” (The youngest is not yet old enough to attend.) At the time their AileyCamp journey began, they had four grandchildren under the age of 3. With so many active young ones running around, Brenda and Kathryn frequently looked for activities and outings to keep the family entertained.

“One day Kathryn was looking through the paper and saw AileyCamp’s end of year production [the culmination of six weeks of hard work at camp], which was free to attend. She knew about Alvin Ailey and had always wanted to see the company but had never felt she could afford to, so we were wowed at the camp and decided to take the kids,” she said. “After the performance, they kept saying, ‘I want to do this! How old do we have to be?’ It became their goal.”

The family attended AileyCamp final performances every year until the eldest of the grandkids were finally old enough to apply in 2011. “As soon as the two eldest—born 10 days apart—both entered 6th grade, the first thing they asked was, ‘Did you get the application in?’ And we did.” It turned out that, based on birthdays, all three of the oldest qualified to attend that year together.

That first summer proved to Brenda and Kathryn what a valuable impact this program could have for their grandkids. “They all had their own trauma they’d gone through, especially around losing or not even knowing their parents. But AileyCamp gave them confidence in themselves, a lot more than I could have done,” she said.

Brenda described one of the first grandsons as being very “defiant” when he entered camp, with AileyCamp’s director sharing with Brenda that he’d “never had a student go toe-to-toe with [him] three separate times.” With the conflict resolution lessons and patient conversations that staff had with him, however, Brenda saw a remarkable improvement with his openness and collaboration that has lasted “all through his life.” Her granddaughter who attended that year, Brenda shared, “had night terrors for years. She was afraid of everything, very shy… After she got out of AileyCamp, she ran for secretary at her school. She was very open and no longer afraid to voice her opinion. Her teachers saw it too, and told me, ‘There’s this glow coming out of her.’”

Brenda's two grandsons Jayson and Jahcob pictured on their first day of AileyCamp (right) and at the end of camp (left). Brenda felt the difference in their stance and presence in the the two photos shows the confidence they gained throughout their six weeks in the program.

Each new year a grandchild would enter sixth grade, the AileyCamp applications would happen like clockwork. The children were not only excited for the program, but really dedicated to making it happen. Brenda recalls one year that car issues and conflicting work schedules made it impossible to take one of her grandsons all the way to camp, but he was so determined that, despite being nervous, he took BART by himself and walked the rest of the way to campus to ensure he could participate.

Last year, the second-youngest of her grandchildren—who had watched the eldest grandchildren’s final performance when he was only 3 years old—was finally able to attend. The year leading up to AileyCamp, he had experienced extreme harassment at school that bled into social media, with some students even taking inappropriate photos of him without his knowledge and circulating them online. “When he went into the program, his head was so down… He found himself again at AileyCamp,” she said. His newfound confidence was game-changing and, when he went to a new school this year, the principal coincidentally recognized him from his final performance! “When the principal met him and mentioned AileyCamp, he lit up. He has done so well in school this year and is feeling better about himself.”

In addition to promoting confidence, Brenda attests that, “because it took the form of the arts, the kids started to realize there were other parts of them.” Each one of her grandchildren found expression through the performing arts following this experience and went on to attend a longer program at East Bay Center for the Performing Arts in Richmond, where they explored everything from acting to African drumming to improv—and, of course, more dance. A few even pursued the arts into adulthood via acting and playwriting!

The youngest child is seven so will not be able to attend camp for a few years still, but the family is already looking forward to the tradition they’ve treasured over the years when they attend their loved one’s final performance and, for the older grandkids, experience the shared sense of accomplishment and growth they felt on that very stage years before.

Reflecting on the overall impact of the camp, Brenda said, “They say it takes a village to raise a kid, and we’ve had seven! I don’t think we could have done it without AileyCamp’s help. Each child in their own way found their inner strength and bloomed from there, and they still carry a lot of what they learned at AileyCamp to this day… I’m not sure how they all would have turned out if they hadn’t had this transformational experience.”

This year marks Berkeley/Oakland AileyCamp’s 21st year, with over 70 campers currently attending the program and experiencing their own form of growth and arts exploration. If you’re interested in having a child apply to the program, sponsoring a child’s free tuition , or seeing the culmination of their hard work at the final performance later this month, you can learn more at

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