Conversation with Michelle Gaskin Brown ’01 offers Black Student Alliance an opportunity for connection
Michelle Gaskin Brown ’01 smiled as she watched dozens of students commune in the Bullard Bright IDEA Lab. The crowd, consisting primarily of students in the Black Student Alliance, waited eagerly for her to speak.
“When I went to Harpeth Hall, there were four Black girls in my class. Seeing you all here is a testament to what the future holds,” she said.
A guest of the Black Student Alliance, Ms. Brown spoke to interested upper school students during lunch about law school, the transition from Harpeth Hall to college, and the various turns her career has taken over the years. The Black Student Alliance was started by a group of seniors from the Class of 2021 who sought an intentional space where students of color can fellowship and support each other. The conversation with Ms. Brown offered students an opportunity to connect with and learn from a Black alumna about her experiences at Harpeth Hall and in her career.
“I enjoyed hearing about her experience and how she had grown from it all,” said senior Christiane Morton, a BSA student leader along with seniors Lailah Rucker and Lauryn Bradley. “Typically, when reading stories about black figures, they focus on the struggle. Ms. Brown's story instead focused on her success within Amazon, which I really enjoyed hearing about.”
Students connected with Ms. Brown’s candor, humor, and unique career journey. Following Harpeth Hall, she graduated from Spelman College and Indiana University Law School. She has worked as a clerk, a criminal defense attorney, and a legislative attorney. Her time with the General Assembly and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce helped deepen her knowledge of the local and state political processes and develop professional connections in the community, eventually leading to her current position as the manager of public policy for Amazon. While her specialties have shifted over the years, Ms. Brown wanted to be a lawyer from a young age.
“I knew it in the 4th grade,” she said. “I loved to argue.”
She credited Harpeth Hall teachers such as Scottie Girgus, Tony Springman, and Art Echerd for fueling her passion. Their classes, she said, laid the foundation for her career.
During the Q&A portion of the talk, students asked Ms. Brown about her academic transition from public school to Harpeth Hall in 7th grade.
“I’m a nerd, so I loved the academic challenges of Harpeth Hall,” she said. However, she said, she also found that the schoolwork challenged her. She encouraged the students to seek whatever support they may need.
“It’s not a problem to ask for help,” Ms. Brown said. “It can be isolating to do it by yourself. Reach out to your peers. I promise you there is someone who loves math, science, or whatever it is you need help with. Somebody loves that subject.”
Ms. Brown also spoke about the social transition to a school environment where many of her classmates had different life experiences than her own. She spoke about the importance of the relationships she formed with her Harpeth Hall classmates through her outgoing personality and her value of connection. She also talked about previous friendships that remained strong outside of school.
“I enjoyed her transparency about her experience at Harpeth Hall … how during her time at Harpeth Hall there were only four total black girls in her grade, which was the case for our class prior to freshman year,” Lailah said.
Lailah reflected on the similarities between Ms. Brown’s experience and her own, particularly the friendships she formed.
“She noted how she had other friends, but no bond was ever as strong as the one she had with the other black girls in her grade. This holds true for me as well. Coming in as a 7th grader, I was the fourth black girl in the grade, and by the end of middle school, my strongest friendship was the one I had with Lauryn, Christiane, and Rori.”
Students also asked about Ms. Brown’s time at Spelman College. “I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew it would be fun,” Ms. Brown said with a laugh.
She remarked upon the community she found in Atlanta, particularly in the cohort of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), and how that compared to her experience at Harpeth Hall. In particular, she reflected on how her parents pushed her and inspired her to excel and how the academic path at Harpeth Hall helped set her up for success in college.
To those wondering whether their time at Harpeth Hall would be worth it, Ms. Brown offered a resounding yes. She credited the school with giving her the stellar foundation to work toward her dreams.
“The perk of being a Harpeth Hall graduate is that I placed out of everything. I got to start my major second semester,” she said.
Ms. Brown assured students that they would be more than prepared for the workload ahead, and she encouraged them to embrace their time at Harpeth Hall.
“I know you all know what’s going on in the world, and the questions you ask, the way you think, the way you process information is just different because that’s what Harpeth Hall is teaching you to do,” Ms. Brown said. “… Where you all are now is where you are supposed to be, and I can only imagine what you will be like in four years.”