Far too often, students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are unable to afford their dream of earning a college degree. In order to combat these unfortunate circumstances, Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation are partnering to raise up to $150,000 in scholarship funds for students attending HBCUs like Morehouse College and Spelman College in Atlanta. From August 1 to December 31, Allstate will donate $10 for every person who receives an insurance quote and mentions the Quotes of Education initiative. The funds will be donated to the Tom Joyner Foundation and earmarked for general scholarships to assist students attending HBCUs.
On August 2, I had the pleasure of speaking with Cheryl Harris, senior vice president at Allstate and an alumna of Florida A & M University, about the fourth annual launch of this essential program, how readers can get involved and how, as an African American woman, she learned to succeed in Corporate America.
Q: How did the partnership between Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation come about?
A: For the second year in a row, Allstate has partnered with Tom Joyner and his charitable organization to fund our Quotes for Education program. Because of Tom’s vision and our commitment to supporting African Americans, we felt like there was an intersection to create a shared vision by supporting students at HBCUs.
Since 1998, the Tom Joyner Foundation has raised more than $60 million to keep more than 14,000 students in school, and that has worked with 100 HBCs. So when we were looking for partners, this felt like a natural fit.
Q: Charity is an important aspect of Miss A magazine. How can our readers contribute?
A: You can visit www.allstate.com/represent to find a nearby participating agent or receive a quote online, or you can receive a quote anytime by calling 555-REPHBCU. If there’s no participating agent near you, mention Quotes for Education during the quoting process, and Allstate will donate $10 to the Tom Joyner Foundation. All sums up to $150,000 will be earmarked for scholarships.
Also, for the first time you will have a chance to demonstrate your passion as an alumnus of an HBCU. You can go online to vote, and the school with the most votes will receive a separate $50,000 donation for scholarships. You do not have to receive a quote to vote, but we’d like to maximize the giving of both the $150,000 and the $50,000 HBCU specific donation.
Q: Since this program also helps fund historically black universities, why do you think it is important to keep these institutions alive?
A: To answer that question, let me talk about HBCU graduation rates and the importance of keeping students in school. According to a study by the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, only four out of 37 HBCUs surveyed had a black student graduation rate over 50 percent within the last six years. One of the reasons for that is because the private and public funding needed to support scholarships and special needs has been diminishing. The Tom Joyner program is important because it’s filling the gap.
This relates to why HBCs are important. My experience as a graduate of Florida A & M, an HBCU, was a very nurturing one. I was the first in my family to go to college, which is the case with many African Americans, and when you arrive on an HBCU campus you are arrive to a very caring and nurturing environment. Not to say that you wouldn’t at a majority campus, but I can’t speak from that point of view because that was not my experience.
But an HBCU can teach you all the things that you may not know. It’s not about creating discipline around studying. It’s about growing up African American or growing up in a diverse environment. While HBCUs are historically black colleges and universities, they are also diverse campuses. I will speak for FAM U. I understand that recently we had students from over 56 different countries attending the university. It’s a misnomer to say it’s an all-Black school, because it’s a school that promotes cultural diversity if you look at the changing demographics.
Q: You attribute your own academic success to scholarships from organizations like the Tom Joyner Foundation. Could you tell me a little more about your background?
A: I’ll get very personal. My mother was 15 when she got pregnant with me, single. She was 16 when she had me. We grew up very poor, and I wanted to go away to school to become an anthropologist or a physicist. I got accepted to colleges and had great ACT and SAT scores, but still could not get full scholarships. It was through an organization in Chicago, and a gentleman by the name of Silas Purnell who pro-actively worked to reach out universities that stretched from the University of Washington all the way to New York Polytechnic Institute to give scholarships to those who were less privileged. It was through Silas Purnell that I became familiar with Florida A&M University, and that’s also how I got a scholarship to major in Business. Granted, I did not become an anthropologist, archaeologist or a physicist, but I do believe that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and I’m doing it with the help of organizations like the Tom Joyner Foundation that gave a kid like me a chance to be successful, and chance to go to college.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as an African American woman in Corporate America, and how have you overcome them?
A: When I entered corporate America, I was very young, and I got promoted very fast. I had 5 or 6 promotions within 10 years at my first employer, and it was interesting because of what I was learning. I was actually in Minneapolis at the time, and being a minority where only 3% of the population was minority, I had not just a lot of majority or Caucasians working for me, but Caucasian men. One of the things that my first employer did, and I think they’ve done an excellent job over the years, is cultivating diversity and inclusion. I got a lot of help from the organization in getting through that.
As an African American female, up until recently, I’ve had a lot of self-doubt. Do I really belong here? Have I really earned this or was it just given to me? It took me a lot of soul searching to appreciate the fact that I’ve earned it, and I don’t always have to prove myself. In the past, I felt the need to prove to people that I was smart, and I knew what I was talking about, and that I deserved to be there. And now it’s okay to just show up and contribute versus having to prove that I belong here.
I’m also a working mom. I’m married, and I have five kids at home. Finding the right integration of work and life has been a challenge. I don’t call it a work-life balance any more. I call it work-life integration. But I do believe that by being transparent and authentic in who you are, and what’s important to you, and having those around you, your boss, your peers, your team understand and appreciate you, makes it a lot easier to be who you are.
Q: You also mentor students and business owners. How do you encourage women to take career risks and pursue their dreams?
A: First of all, you have to have a dream. You have to have a set of goals. You have to have ambition. Take a step back. All of us need to take a step back to really assess what it is we want to do, and then create a path to get there.
Along the way, you have to find mentors and sponsors, and you find those differently. A mentor is someone who can give you advice and coach you. A sponsor is someone who can advocate for you, and make decisions that help you get from point A to point B. Once you build those relationships, you have to maintain them, and cultivate them, and understand that they are two way relationships.
For women business owners in particular, get involved with the local certifying organizations like a WE Bank or women’s business development network because they offer access to free tool and information to help you not only to create a business plan, but get set up in terms of your operating plans, accessing capital, and gaining access to programs like the Allstate Mentoring Program where we mentor small, minority, women-owned, and other disadvantaged businesses.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like Miss A readers to know about Allstate or the Tom Joyner program?
A: Quotes for Education is just one of the ways that Allstate demonstrates its commitment to helping students achieve their dreams of earning a college degree. Since 2005, Allstate has supported general scholarship funds with donations to partner colleges and universities. We have a Field Goal Program. All in all, we’ve donated more than $2.6 million in scholarship funds through these programs, which will include up to 75 schools in 2012. I feel really good about working with Allstate and working on this program in particular.
To participate in the Quotes for Education program, visit www.allstate.com/represent to find a nearby participating agent or receive a quote online, or call 855-REP-HBCU at any time to receive a quote. Supporters can also join and follow the conversation on Twitter via the hashtag #RepHBCU to encourage the participation of friends and family.