NY-Nat’l Alumnae Association of Spelman College Raises $87,353 for College Students

(L to r) Medical professional Danah Wilkins; American broadcast journalist and television talk show hostess Tamron Hall; USC Law Student Danielle Wilkins; TNJ Senior Editor Sergie Willoughby

Historically Black Colleges and Universities and their graduates have been vigilant about raising money for incoming students to attend college, graduate on time, and take their place as the next generation of Black leaders in their respective fields.

One of those colleges is Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. It has a well-documented legacy of producing extraordinary African-American women who are among some of the brightest stars in their careers that range from business to science. It is one of only six colleges in the country designated by the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a Model Institution for Excellence in undergraduate science and mathematics education. Further, the National Science Foundation ranked the college No.2 among undergraduate institutions producing the highest number of African-Americans with doctorates in the STEM fields. In 1988, Bill and Camille Cosby famously donated $20 million to the college for ongoing support of its programs, and later, the college received a $30 million donation from Spelman trustee Ronda Stryker and her husband, William Johnston.

The New York chapter of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College (NY-NAASC) has been quite active lately in its role of encouraging individual financial support to the College through annual giving; stimulating interest among young women to attend Spelman; and honoring Spelman women who have given outstanding service in their fields. This summer, they held a scholarship gala at Landmark on the Park in NYC where they honored Spelman College graduates Alia Jones-Harvey (Class of ’95), a noted Broadway producer whose recent work includes the award-winning play Eclipsed; Nailah Flake-Brown (Class of 2000), a managing director at Morgan Stanley and a 2015 Network Journal 40 Under Forty honoree; Capital One Treasury Manager Colleen Taylor (Class of 1990) and Janelle Richards (Class of 2009), who is a producer at NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt.

The scholarships are given via the Virginia T. Dowell Scholarship Fund. Created by NY-NAASC to provide financial support to New York-area graduating high school seniors, the Fund is named in honor of Virginia T. Dowell, who, for 35-years, was an educator, and also encouraged young women to attend the college. From 1978-1982, she served as NY-NAASC President.

In her note to supporters, current NY-NAASC President Arri Shelton-Edwards said: “This year, we are striving to improve the experience of Spelman students from the NY area by providing financial support not only in their first year, but throughout their enrollment to ensure these young women receive their degrees. We hope that you are entertained, inspired and empowered to dig deep into your hearts and give to a young lady, eager to embark on her journey, one of the greatest gifts, the only true equalizer: an education.”

Hosted by Darla Miles of the Eyewitness News Team, the event raised a total of $87,353, and awarded $42,890 to high school seniors headed to Spelman.

Here, 2013 Spelman College graduate Danielle Wilkins, an independent business consultant who also sits on NY-NAASC’s executive board as financial secretary, tells us about their fundraising efforts, and what the future holds for the organization.

TNJ.com: Tell me about the gala. I know it was a Scholarship Gala sponsored by Bank of America, JP Morgan, Moody’s, Capital One and Morgan Stanley. And it was the inaugural gala, right?

Danielle Wilkins: Yes, the event served as our inaugural gala; this year was the first year we hosted a scholarship gala of that magnitude. We’ve had smaller events every year that were brunch fundraisers, but this year under the leadership of our new president, Arri Shelton-Edwards, she thought we could use a lot of the connections we’ve all had as students who’ve had internships, have graduated, and have worked full time with big companies and also who worked in education and still had connections with those companies in terms of funding. She had the vision to have this inaugural gala to really tap into those resources to raise a lot more money for students.

TNJ.com: How were the financial awards distributed?

D.W.: When I got the scholarship in 2009 to attend Spelman, the awards were very small. The awards are usually one-time awards for a small amount of money. But this year, because of the way we did the gala, three freshman were awarded renewable scholarships. Two of them received 4-year scholarships, and the third student was a rising Spelman sophomore who received funds from us to help out with her college expenses.

TNJ.com: Roughly $87,353 was raised from the gala, and the board
allocated $42,890 for monetary awards. In terms of how many students to
award and how much money to award each student, how was that decision

D.W.: It was up to the board to decide. We could have given a lot of students a little bit of money or fewer students a lot more substantial award. As a board, we determined that it was more impactful for the students to be able to rely on that money every year.

TNJ.com: Tell me about the award selection process.

D.W.: Every year, Spelman has an event to send students off. This year, we had a tea and we invited the scholarship applicants to attend. We hosted interviews, they had to write an essay and fill out an application. Arri has worked in college access for over 15 years and is very familiar with funding and financial aid, so she also went over their financial needs in order for us to make a decision.

TNJ.com: What area high schools were targeted for the application process?

D.W.: The NY chapter services the entire state of New York, and we reach out and send scholarship applications to all students who applied to Spelman, were accepted, and sent in commitment letters to definitely attend the college in the fall. Spelman provides us with that list. They had to send in the application in advance and from that, we set up interviews. Even though it was a rainy day, we had students who drove hours from upstate, Long Island and other places to come to the tea, be interviewed, and meet other incoming freshman. It was a very good turnout.

TNJ.com: How were the gala honorees chosen?

D.W.: We’ve always honored people, whether it was a huge function or a small one. We have a committee that is responsible for sourcing potential awardees. They do some research and we email everyone on our distribution list to ask them for nominations. As a committee, we come together based on selection criteria and pick the awardees, making sure there is a wide spectrum when it comes to age and accomplishments. You don’t necessarily have to be the CEO of your company to be awarded. If you just graduated 5 years ago, but you’re doing amazing things like Janelle Richards, one of this year’s honorees, you can still be considered.

TNJ.com: What was a highlight of the night?

D.W.: Being that it was the first event, we were nervous for people to come. But, we
had a full house and two days before the event, we decided to add two more tables so that even more people could come. It was great to look out into the room and see Spelman alum and their friends and family; and also to see the honorees and show support with their organizations, their family, and whomever else they brought to support our cause.

TNJ.com: Is there another gala in the works for next year?

D.W.: Yes, we’re really excited and have already started planning for next year. There is a lot of interest, especially from financial institutions to get involved and a lot of them want to recruit Spelman students and members of the alumni chapter to work at their companies. So, we’re hoping to not only have the fundraiser gala again next year, but also to get some great partners as well. So, there’s definitely more to come with a lot of the sponsors that helped us with our inaugural event.

(CLICK HERE to view photos from the event.)