Mitchell Award Honoree: Fayetta Blake
Fayetta Blake grew up in Selbyville, and when she was in middle school, she found that she was always ignored when she raised her hand. It was 1969, and southern Delaware was just starting to integrate schools. She was one of 13 Black students at the time.
“I used to cry, ‘Why wouldn’t they call on me?’ My aunt and my grandma would say, ‘Raise your hand and quietly say the answer.’ So I did,” Blake said. “That helped me never to lose my voice. Some of our kids lose their voices because they’re shut down so much, and it’s important to understand and advocate for yourself.”
Blake went on to a financial services career, eventually becoming the first Black woman to serve as vice president of operations at All First Financial. In her 20 years there, she struggled against the stereotype of not being to handle the job because of her race and gender.
In 2006, Blake started Pathways to Success as a way to step into her purpose to help families in at-risk communities lead successful lives. The nonprofit gives young Delawareans work experience, as well as after-school mentoring, tutors and field trips.
One of the challenges Blake faces is helping kids find the time for these experiences. Just having enough to eat or putting a roof over their head can take a lot of time to solve, all while many kids work to help pay household bills.
“These are real decisions that people have to make every day, and poverty sticks with you every single day. It gets tiring. But people don’t want to give up, and we’re glad they don’t. We just keep moving forward,” she said.
Blake stays optimistic about the future in part because she finds Delaware’s youth more willing to look past skin color to find the quality of a person underneath.
“They’re more willing to question things, and that’s why we’re here to help them,” she said. “Poverty is also insidious, in that it can make you become angry. We’re trying to get these kids past that doubt and anger. We all have a purpose. It’s up to us to figure what it is.”