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UK Alum Creates Scholarship Foundation for Black Students with GPA of 2.0 or Better

By Akhira Umar, University of Kentucky

As a journalism student at Sullivan Foundation partner school University of Kentucky, Aaron Porter struggled to make ends meet. Now that his career is thriving, he and his cousins have started a scholarship foundation to ease that burden for a new generation of underprivileged Black scholars.

In the first months of 2020, Porter and his cousins, Darrell Williams and Andrew Porter, began researching and planning how to create a scholarship fund. By Dec. 1, they launched the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation, named after their grandfather, who instilled generosity within the family.

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The nationwide scholarship is aimed at helping Black academics like themselves afford higher education, wherever that may be. Unlike many other scholarships that are merit-based and designated for certain majors, this scholarship is open for students of all fields of study with a GPA of at least 2.0.

Porter noted that financial availability is an issue for many Black households, so this scholarship is widening the accessibility of financial aid.

Aaron Porter wants to grow the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation to provide a support network for Black students who face the challenges that confronted him in his own college days.

“Being someone who had limited resources, being someone who had to take student loans, being someone who has debt as we speak, we really wanted to focus in on how we can create an avenue for Black students in all aspects of college and learning,” Porter said. “Kind of give them an opportunity to not have to worry about ‘can I pay for this?’ or ‘can I pay for that?’ or ‘can I do this?’ or ‘can I do that?’ They can just go and be students.”

Porter came to campus as a quiet, out-of-state kid who hardly knew anyone and didn’t know what to major in. From semester to semester, he was always left wondering if he’d be able to continue at UK. In fact, without an unexpected grant one year, he was sure he would have to return home to attend community college in Indianapolis.

Despite these obstacles, Porter grew to become a leader on UK’s campus. He became a resident advisor, a singer in the UK Black Voices Gospel Choir and president and vice president of UK’s chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. In 2019, he also won the NAACP UK Chapter Citizen of the Year Award for his work with the Black Student Advisory Council.

Porter is now a public affairs assistant for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for the state of Mississippi. Despite taking up this new job and its added responsibilities, he knew it was still important to keep giving back.

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“Aaron is one of the best humans I know. His passion for social and racial justice, his love for his community and his unwavering faith are front and center with him always,” said Carol Taylor-Shim, director of UK’s Office of Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice and one of Porter’s mentors at the university. “Aaron always honors and protects the humanity of others; it is the center of who he is. What a gift he gave us by choosing UK, and we are far better for it.”

The Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation’s Facebook page focuses on important figures from Black history, such as Alexander Twilight, the first African-American to graduate from college.

The dedication Porter has for supporting his fellow Black peers is something he shares and regularly discusses with his cousins. Black awareness and appreciation determined who the recipients of their scholarship would be, along with every other aspect of the foundation. Everything on the foundation’s website, from the logo to the color palate, is “Black-inspired, Black-imagined, Black-created,” Porter said.

The application process also requires applicants to create a submission piece that “captures some form of Afrocentric history” in order to combat the lack of Black history that is taught in education systems.

“What is most impressive about Aaron is that self-recognition was never at the heart of his work. He was always concerned about paths of opportunity he was creating for other students, particularly students of color who are marginalized in predominantly white institutions,” said Mel Coffee, a former School of Journalism and Media faculty member and current director of the Capital News Service Broadcast Bureau at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism. “Aaron had a fluid relationship with students and administrators that allowed him to create positive dialogue and change. He’s the student I loved having in class, a colleague I admire in his post-student status, and a man I am proud to also call my friend.”

Although the scholarship foundation is still in its infancy, Porter said they have already received donations from across the nation, including friends, family members and complete strangers. While he’s putting his journalism experience to use as the scholarship foundation’s social media content manager, he looks forward to the day when he’ll be able to disperse scholarship funds as the foundation’s treasurer. He hopes his work will allow him to help others just as his support system had done for him.

“You may never know my name, you may never know who I am, and I’m okay with that,” Porter said. “But if deep down I know that I made an impact on society somewhere, I think that really drives me, and that’s what drives all three of us to do the work that we have committed to doing with the scholarship foundation. I’ll take pleasure in that seven days a week and twice on Sunday.”

For more information about donating to or applying for the Lawson Porter Scholarship Foundation, visit https://thelpsf.org/.

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Kentucky website.

This Houston Organization Aims to Break the School-to-Prison Pipeline for Disadvantaged Youths

Keeping more young people in school will keep them out of prison and on track for better job opportunities, and that’s the goal of Eight Million Stories, launched by Marvin Pierre in Houston.

Eight Million Stories is an alternative education program that helps young ex-offenders re-enter society, complete their GEDs and find jobs. The four-month program, which serves youths age 16 to 18, is designed “to help students build meaningful relationships in their community, access a wide range of social services, develop critical life and job skills, complete their education (GED), and secure meaningful employment,” Pierre said in a Q&A for the TNTP blog.

A longtime educator who has also worked in the investment banking industry, Pierre developed Eight Million Stories while he was a TNTP Bridge Fellow. The program is voluntary, and students must opt in and first commit to a two-week onboarding session.

According to the organization’s website, students spend half of their time taking GED classes and preparing for the GED Test. About 40 percent of their time is spent in job training programs offered through YouthBuild Texas. Here, they take occupational skills classes and can earn a stipend working for local businesses. They can also work toward earning one of four credentials: the NCCER Core Credential; the Multi-Craft Core Credential; the Customer Service and Sales Credential; and the Office Essentials Credential.

They also participate in enrichment programming to develop their leadership skills and learn by performing community service.

Eight Million Stories founder Marvin Pierre (right) with a program participant

“We believe that there are a lot of commonalities in terms of why kids end up in the juvenile justice system, whether it’s broken homes or lack of support in the school system or other factors,” Pierre told TNTP. “If you interview every kid in the system, you’ll find there’s a common thread. That’s what we’re trying to undo. If we attack those commonalities, then we can aggressively work to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The program can also help young people escape poverty and reduce the country’s prison population. Above all, it gives them a chance to redefine themselves. “For young people involved in the juvenile justice system, society has written their stories for them,” Pierre noted. “We want our students to learn from their past mistakes and be in a position to rewrite their own stories.”