The organizers behind the Puissance Scholarship are encouraging their peers to give back to their respective university and college endowments through memorable social gatherings and community service, while inspiring high school students in the New York area to seek higher education at a historically Black college and university.
“I wanted to give back to the community because a lot of people put me in positions to be where I am now,” Brendan Francis, 24, one of the founders of Puissance told BET.com.
“But I wanted to give people a chance to go see something new. Go step out of their comfort zone and really explore HBCUs, because I had a great HBCU experience and my peers that went had great ones and I really wanted to share that trend,” Francis continued.
In 2013, Francis and Alize Beal, 25, Howard University alumni, founded the Puissance Scholarship for freshmen at Howard. Since then, they brought Lauren Legette, 25, and Anastazia Neely, 22, Hampton University alumnae, and Roger Rojas, 34, an alumnus of Morgan State University, on board to expand the reach of the scholarship fund.
Puissance held their first successful gathering at the Sol Studio in Harlem for an evening of art complete with cocktails and swag bags last summer. SupaBrunch, a Howard Homecoming event, followed. Proceeds from the brunch went to the scholarship. In February, the group threw Hillman Homecoming and brought out hundreds of alumni across HBCUs to The Griffin, a hotspot in lower Manhattan.
“With our generation you have to meet us more than halfway sometimes and it has to be a mutual benefit and that’s why the parties and the mixers work — because we want to be around each other; we want to be engaged,” Beal told BET.com. “Although social media is really nice, what our generation has to understand with social media and hashtags it that it doesn’t translate into dollars.”
Money is especially important as more and more African-Americans enroll in college. Many are not completing college in four years or at all because of financial hardships that hold them back, placing a ball and chain on their future prosperity. African-American students and bachelor's degree holders have acquired student debt at higher rates than other race groups.
Twenty-seven percent of 2007-08 Black bachelor’s degree recipients borrowed $30,500 or more, compared to 16 percent of whites, 14 percent of Latinos and 9 percent of Asians, according to a College Board study. Also, 81 percent of African-American students complete their undergraduate education with debt, the Center for American Progress reports.
Giving back is critical among HBCUs, where endowments tally up to less than $1 million a year. The top endowments in 2013 were Howard University, $513,667; Spelman College, $327,171; Hampton University, $254,103; Meharry Medical College, $124,965; and Florida A&M University, $115,281, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers.
“We have to take responsibility for giving back to our alma maters. So if we can set a trend hopefully people will catch on,” said Francis.
Beale believes that community service is becoming more of a focus for Black millennials. “I think our generation is just way more socially conscious and if we continue to build off of that, I’m really excited to see what it’ll look like 20 years from now,” she added.
Going forward, the board wants to expand their activities from parties to developmental training and networking events for young alumni and students. Their goal is to set themselves apart and to be associated with “the big players” supporting the HBCU community, such as the United Negro College Fund.
This year, the board received more than 20 applicants compared to three applicants in 2013. The name “Puissance” is a synonym for power, and the group chose a winner who they believed “personified” the word through their application and interview, Francis explained. Brooke Baker, a freshman at Howard, was awarded the $1,000 book scholarship for this current school year.
“Us sending them off, young professionals with this scholarship, gives them a different sense of pride because it makes success look obtainable and that’s a good thing,” said Beal.
For more information on the Puissance scholarship and future events, e-mail HBCUPuissance@gmail.com.
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