The impact of the NBA on the Thurgood Marshall College Fund

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One by one, the students read their letters aloud.

They wrote them for NBA All-Star Game players and coaches, but the post offered more substance than Sunday’s game or favorite All-Star memorabilia.

About 20 students from the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF) gathered Thursday evening for a Zoom call with officials from the TMCF and NBA as well as Hall of Fame center Dikembe Mutombo. Many of them expressed their gratitude for the NBA donating more than $ 300 million to the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund, which has supported students and institutions at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for the past 34 years.

“I just wanted to thank them for how their support has really helped shape the future of so many black men and women and minorities in general,” said Omar Harbison, second-year doctoral student specializing in educational leadership at Clark Atlanta University. “Their support will open doors and dismantle barriers to future opportunities.”

So when the NBA decided to host the All-Star Game in Atlanta in the middle of a compressed season during a pandemic, the reasons went beyond maximizing revenue with their television contracts. The NBA wanted to help the HBCUs with both additional financial support and exposure.

Thus, the NBA and its partners (AT&T, Mountain Dew, State Farm, Taco Bell) will collectively provide more than $ 3 million to TMCF, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), National Association for Equal Opportunity (NAFEO) and Direct Relief’s Fund. for Health. Equity.

When James lebron and Kevin Durant selected their All-Star teammates on TNT television on Thursday, the implications went beyond the respective bragging rights between the two stars. The James team will represent TMCF, which includes 47 publicly funded HBCUs. The Durant team will play for the UNCF, which is made up of 37 member colleges. Each organization will initially receive $ 500,000, but its future fortunes depend on the performance of these teams. The organization chosen by the management team will earn an additional $ 150,000 at the end of each of the first three quarters and an additional $ 300,000 after the fourth quarter.

In Sunday’s dunk contest, Obi Toppin, Cassius Stanley and Anfernee Simons will partner with an HBCU that will receive an initial amount of $ 50,000. The winning school will receive additional donations from the NBA ($ 100,000) and AT&T ($ 40,000), while AT&T will give an additional $ 30,000 to each finalist and $ 5,000 via TCMF for each dunk during the All. -Star Game. All of this money will go to TMCF’s COVID-19 HBCU emergency fund.

“It’s an excellent fund. Obviously he’s represented by someone who represents our black community with the utmost respect to Thurgood Marshall, ”James said Thursday on TNT television, referring to the first black Supreme Court judge who had managed to do so. declare racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional. . “To us being able to shine a light on this program and shed light on these children means a lot to me, my foundation and what we do in my hometown. I appreciate that we are even able to do this. I’m very grateful.

Students too.

The NBA has invited some TMCF students to be among 300 frontline workers and HBCU students to attend Sunday’s game as virtual fans. They will interact with the players before the match via a virtual screen. And students’ letters will be placed in each player’s locker.

The NBA worked with HBCU alumni to design a playground that incorporates various HBCU icons relating to academics, music and campus life. Seven HBCU students will see their work on display in the arena, players’ hotel, on the show and on NBA social platforms during All-Star Weekend. And although the NBA is hosting its All-Star Game in a nearly empty arena, the league has invited around 1,500 frontline workers, community partners and HBCU alumni, students and faculty to attend in person.

“The financial support from the NBA will definitely help students like me complete their education,” said Jaida West, a finance major and accounting minor at Morgan State. “With the NBA having such a national platform, this will allow aspiring students to learn more about the HBCUs. They will know that there are universities and programs that really encourage minorities to complete their education and have roughly equal chances when it comes to securing employment opportunities after graduation. .

Dr. N. Joyce Pain created the TMCF in 1987 in part because of the presence of the NBA. David stern was a co-founder of the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund and the TMCF Board of Directors and remained on the Board until his death in 2020.

“The name of David Stern was not just attached to us. He was committed, ”said Dr. Harry Williams, President and CEO of TMCF. “He came to the meetings and participated in them. He started the first big fundraiser, which started to value the organization. “

Stern’s initial efforts revolved around fundraising in previous All-Star games. The involvement of the NBA has morphed into other initiatives. In 2014, TMCF established the David J. Stern Scholarship which awards three HBCU students who have completed their first year $ 10,000 each for tuition. Last year, the NBA and TMCF launched the “Innovate the Future” competition, a one-and-a-half-day event for HBCU students to solve various case studies. Students on the winning team also receive merit-based scholarships. The NBA and TMCF plan to host this year’s competition virtually from May 6-7.

Williams touted these scholarships as important, as the TMCF and NBA have said more than 75% of HBCU students depend on Pell Grants and nearly 13% use PLUS loans to pay for their college expenses. TMCF said HBCUs are 1/8 the average endowment size compared to historically white colleges and universities.

The NBA’s partnership with TMCF goes beyond helping HBCU students with scholarships.

“They’ve been a resource for interns and full-time hires for us at the league office,” said Oris Stuart, director of human resources and inclusion for the NBA. “We have personally benefited from our partnership with Thurgood Marshall to identify incredible talent. There is a virtuous circle that exists because of our relationship with Thurgood.

The NBA said it had more than 15 league office workers who attended the HBCUs. This year, the NBA also included three participants from the TMCF Leadership Institute in their first-ever Future Sales Stars program, a virtual development program designed to promote and increase diversity in ticket sales and corporate partnerships.

“This is a real partnership with the NBA,” said Williams. “This is not something that just happened because of the social unrest in our country. The NBA has been with us from the very beginning.

West and Harbison did not work for the NBA but did receive NBA financial support for TMCF.

West remains on track to graduate in May and plans to start full-time employment with Boeing this summer after interning with them the past two summers. Although she received a partial track and field scholarship to compete on the women’s track team, West worried about the amount of student debt she would inherit.

“I always wondered if I was going to be able to pay for school. That’s how the Thurgood Marshall College Fund came in. During my junior and senior year, I was going to have a hard time affording it, ”West said. “It really alleviates that stress. I have seen students not knowing if they could complete their studies just because they did not have enough financial aid. “

Harbison had relied on a combination of various scholarships and student loans to earn a bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College (industrial and organizational psychology, 2000) and a master’s degree from Regent University (journalism and public relations, 2002). He went on to work in various roles as Editor-in-Chief for Television (WSB-TV, Channel 2), Television Producer (Taking Authority Broadcast) and Assistant Professor (North Carolina Central University). But the 2008 economic recession helped cut roles in his television gigs.

Harbison therefore turned to education both as a part-time assistant professor in the journalism and sports program at Morehouse College (2010-16) and as a senior educational media producer at Clark Atlanta University (2012). -17). To avoid increasing his student debt, Harbison turned to TMCF for support. He still has a year of work left with his thesis. Harbison has postponed his current loans, avoided adding new debt, and is hoping to qualify for a student loan forgiveness due to his work in higher education.

“It’s never too late to pursue your educational dreams and for an organization like the NBA and TMCF to support that,” Harbison said. “I would like to be an example for, if you think your life is over at some point, you don’t. Life is a series of little chapters, and I had a series of them. They have all been really exciting and fulfilling. “

They expressed their desire to see James because of his star power and his strong involvement in social justice causes. Harbison, West and other HBCU students will have another opportunity to share their gratitude to All-Star attendees and give TMCF more visibility.

“The reason our relationship has persisted for over 33 years is because they serve a critical need in the American education system with their support at HBCUs,” said Stuart. “We will continue to be a part of that support. We see the importance of ensuring that students of all backgrounds have the ability, access and opportunity to achieve their greatest ambitions.

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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