By Janice Llanes Fabry
Ingraham Taylor has lived in Rye for 55 years. A member of the Rye High School class of 1972, she proudly says, “I never missed a Rye-Harrison game in 52 of those years. They call them twirlers now, but I was a majorette from grade 10 through 12.”
She may have put down the baton, but Taylor has always marched to the beat of her own drum. After graduating from high school, she pursued a career in finance. But after working for Fortune 500 companies for 20 years, she veered off course.
“Instead of pursuing my MBA, I decided I was more of a people person and earned my Masters of Social Work at Fordham University,” she explained. “Rather than work with numbers, I wanted to concentrate on children and families. I wanted to show them the support, love, and encouragement my parents showed me.”
Taylor’s parents grew up in the South and both had to work from a young age to help sustain their families. “My mom went as far as the fifth grade and my father only to third grade. He did not really learn how to read until he was in his 60s. I was so proud when he did,” shared Taylor.
Once they moved to the Northeast, they lived in a one-bedroom basement apartment in Port Chester before relocating. “My parents sacrificed a lot for me to grow up in Rye. My mother scrubbed floors and my father worked at the Lifesaver building in Port Chester,” she noted. “It was important for them that we live in Rye because it was their goal to have their own home and to give me a good education.”
Taylor noted there were already quite a number of “black owned homes” on Cedar Place, Goldwyn Street, and in the “Dublin” area before they arrived in 1963. “It was a time when acceptance was not one hundred percent, so there were some challenges due to race,” she said.
Overcoming adversity, her father was able to offer his family new opportunities and to realize his dream of having his own garden yielding fresh vegetables every year. “We also had a grapevine and an apple tree,” Taylor recalled. “My mom made apple and grape jelly and apple pies, like the ones she made as a cook working in restaurants in Nags Head, North Carolina.”
Today, Taylor takes pride in the fact that four generations of her family have been rooted in Rye. Her son Andre graduated from Rye High in 1997 and he and his wife Lizette’s 8-year-old daughter Isabella attends Midland.
As far as pursuing a career as a social worker upon graduating Fordham University, Taylor began doing extensive work in residential treatment facilities and in the Mount Vernon School District. Fourteen years ago, she also became involved in Westchester’s NAACP Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO).
Founded in 1978 by journalist Vernon Jarrett, ACT-SO was adopted by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) as a major youth initiative. Its mission is to recognize, prepare, and reward African-American youth who exemplify scholastic and artistic excellence. It offers a yearlong enrichment program for high school students, which culminates in competitions in science, humanities, performing and visual arts, and entrepreneurship. A few notable alumni include best-selling author Lawrence Otis Graham and performers Jada Pinkett-Smith, Vanessa Williams, and the Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actor Anthony Anderson of the hit sitcom, “Black-ish.”
“ACT-SO resonated with me because it’s all about today’s youth, especially high school students,” said Taylor, who has served as the organization’s chair the last two years. “I tell the kids, ‘Once you enroll, you’re family.’”
A temporary setback put Taylor’s work on hold back in 2006. She suffered from a brain tumor that required a seven-hour surgery. “When everything came back, my senses and my cognitive abilities, I knew I was here for a reason to continue my work with youth and families.”
After the year it took her to fully recover, she came back strong and determined. Taylor continues to recruit students who might benefit from ACT-SO and accompanies them to regional competitions, as well as an annual recognition ceremony that awards participants with silver, bronze, and gold medals. Gold medalists then go on to a national competition, all expenses paid, which this year is being held in July in San Antonio.
Taylor is currently working on its 35th annual breakfast fundraiser, coming up on March 24. She is committed to raising awareness and excited about the awards and proclamations presented to civic-minded community members at this event.
In addition to her role at ACT-SO, Taylor works with high school girls at the Carver Center’s Teen Center and sits on the education committee of the NAACP Port Chester/Rye branch. Moreover, she works with families of color in the community through her own advocacy program, HOPE (Helping Others Prepare for Excellence).
“I’m blessed and I always want to give back,” she said.
<For more information, donation, and volunteer opportunities, visit the Westchester region of ACT-SO at www.wractso.com.>