In the wake of COVID-19, Jonathan Allen and Derrick Young Jr. were anxious to lend a helping hand.
Both Allen and Young — two graduates of Grambling State University, a historically Black university in Louisiana — launched an online fund to provide small emergency grants to Boston-area college students displaced by coronavirus.
“When crises arise, we see how the many issues and inequities worsen and disproportionately affect historically marginalized groups,” said Allen, an ordained minister and lawyer. “We learned in early March 2020 that students were being told to vacate campus due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This unforeseen circumstance prevents hardship for many diverse and first-generation students who do not have the privilege to make immediate accommodations for housing, travel, food, storage and other critical necessities.”
Allen and Young — both former scholars of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund — used their organization, The Leadership Brainery, to launch an emergency relief fund, providing $100 mini-grants to help diverse, low-income, first generation and LGBTQ+ students attending college in the Greater Boston area.
The donations have been pouring in via social media and their website, allowing Allen and Young to assist more than 100 students. But the need, they say, remains great. So far, the two have given away close to $14,000 in funds.
“Our goal, as always, is to ensure diverse and first-generation students have the resources and opportunities to thrive,” said Young, who has a master’s of public health degree from Tufts University Medical School. “While a $100 mini-grant may not be much to some, many of our grant recipients simply need money for travel home, food for the week, storage fees, Wi-Fi for classes or checked bags. Many of the obstacles that privileged students do not have to worry about, affect diverse students’ ability to live, learn, graduate and succeed.”
Indeed, COVID-19 — like so many other natural disasters — illustrates the deep and widening class divide, particularly as it relates to young people of color. And students at minority serving institutions have been hit particularly hard.
Last week, the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) announced that it had been granted a $7,500 COVID-19 Rapid Response Small Grant from ECMC Foundation to provide emergency support funds to students across its various programs. The emergency support funds will provide students with $150 to cover basic needs, including rent, utilities, Wi-Fi for online learning, and groceries, among other necessities.
“Given these uncertain times, we are happy to offer support to students in our programs who are currently affected by COVID-19,” said Dr. Marybeth Gasman, the executive director of the Rutgers Center for Minority Serving Institutions and a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University. “ECMC Foundation is consistently supportive of our programs, and with this grant, we are able to further extend our support to those who are facing financial challenges as a result of the global health pandemic.”
In order to receive emergency support funds, students from CMSI programs will complete a short application. All applications for funding will be reviewed on a rolling basis and will be awarded to students in a timely fashion. Applications will be accepted through August 31, 2020, and will be disbursed over the coming weeks to provide immediate relief to students experiencing financial turmoil.
As undergraduates, Allen and Young were active college student leaders, who met working in student government at Grambling. After they graduated, they formed The Leadership Brainery, a nonprofit designed to prepare young people from diverse backgrounds to become leaders. Last year, The Leadership Brainery hosted a National Impact Summit at Harvard Law School which brought together nearly 100 diverse and first-generation college student leaders from the Greater Boston area who were recruited by more than 20 graduate and professional programs and corporate partners.
They say that their experience attending an HBCU sparked their interest in civic engagement and the need to give back, particularly to disenfranchised groups.
Recipients of their emergency grants said that the $100 has proved useful in helping them land back on their feet during these turbulent times.
“While it is easy to succumb to the idea of self-preservation during situations such as these and hoard all aid to oneself, it is the people who use this time to help those less fortunate, that are good people,” said one grant recipient.