What began as a college endowment research project by Kira Russell-Johnson, 24, ended with a shocking and disappointing revelation. Russell-Johnson, who did not attend a black college, discovered the endowments of HBCUs are significantly less than their white counterparts. That’s when she decided to be the difference she wants to see by launching a quest to donate at least $300 of her own money to every HBCU in the nation. The effort recently brought her to Clark Atlanta University where she hand-delivered a $350 cash donation. Her donations come with one stipulation, which is the money is given directly to the needs of the student body.
“I walked away feeling I was being what I want other people to be, which is someone who is not comfortable with high student loan debt or HBCUs closing down,” said Russell-Johnson.
CAU was actually the second HBCU in Russell-Johnson’s giving campaign. She said her first gift of $300 was donated to Spelman College. Next, she plans to make a contribution to Morris Brown College then, take her HBCU campaign statewide and national. And she’s doing it all on a salary of under $30k a year.
“I want to bridge the gap and offer aid to black students who need it most,” Russell-Johnson continued. “I did a small part, but I did my part.”
There’s no question students enrolled at HBCUs need financial assistance. Student loan debt is a substantial burden for HBCU students, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college, according to the United Negro College Fund. That’s why CAU launched its “15 or 18” campaign in October to help students reduce student loan debt by graduating in four years or less.
HBCUs themselves don’t fair much better than their students when it comes to money in the bank. According to a recent UNCF study of the top ten HBCU endowments, they pale in comparison to the tens of billions of dollars in the endowments of their white counterparts. The lack of endowments for HBCUs translates to their students being forced to seek more costly education loans such as unsubsidized federal and private loans, the study concluded.
Russell-Johnson’s generous and bold action showcases the potential that exists to widen educational opportunities for HBCU students if more people follow her lead. She exemplifies what is expected of all CAU alumni, friends and supporters. Everyone can be part of President Ronald A. Johnson’s vision of “Lifting Every Voice” by clicking the donation link to give the gift of education: https://invest.cau.edu/give-now.
“Hopefully that random student that I’ll probably never meet will be helped,” Russell-Johnson finished.