Learning to Be a Leader
Marie Hamilton was determined to give her daughter the educational opportunities she didn’t have as a child. And so, when Amber Hamilton ’94 was in middle school, her mother, then a manager for Macy’s credit services, bought a home in a very well regarded and wealthy New Jersey suburb, thinking the public schools would provide that educational foundation. “And the school was just completely mediocre,” recalls Amber, with a laugh. “It was just underwhelming. And my mother was so upset.”
Fortunately for the Hamiltons, Amber’s neighbor, Treena Burton ’89, had attended Williston. After considering a number of other independent schools, Amber followed in Treena’s footsteps. “Williston, for me, struck the best balance of having a high level of instruction and education but not having an exclusive New England prep school culture that felt foreign to me,” she says. After Williston, Amber went on to realize her mother’s dream, earning a B.A. in political science from Howard University and a master’s degree in executive leadership and a certificate in executive coaching from Georgetown University. Today she is chief operating and strategy officer for the Memphis Music Initiative, a nonprofit that supports youth engagement and development through music in Memphis, Tennessee.
Amber notes that Williston’s generous financial aid package was a key factor in her decision to attend. And, as it turned out, her time at Williston would provide her with other benefits that would prove invaluable in her later work. “Williston was my first real foray into seeing a problem and then figuring out how to bring people together to address it in a formal way,” she explains. “So instead of just noticing that I didn’t think there were enough black faculty, or I didn’t think there was enough black history being taught, I had to learn how to organize people and how to bring those concerns to people in power. I don’t think I had ever really done that before. So really it was the beginning of my career as an equity warrior.”
Today, under Amber’s guidance, the Memphis Music Initiative allows young people in under-served communities to learn from local musicians in their classrooms, take music lessons and have access to instruments, and experience the rich musical heritage of their home town. Like her mother before her, Amber hopes to give these young people the kinds of life-changing opportunities she found at Williston. “Young people struggle to know the power and effectiveness of their voice,” she says. “They don’t know if adults are really going to want to listen to them. But my experience at Williston showed me that I had tremendous power in my voice, and that I had tremendous leverage when I brought other people to the table to support that voice. That’s not necessarily something you get everywhere.”