I can still remember the day I first walked onto Howard University’s campus. We had just driven 19 hours from Texas to Washington, D.C. Although I was weary from the journey, I immediately perked up when we approached the campus.
I had always dreamed about going to college, but I wasn’t sure that I could afford it. I grew up in a single-family household and my mother only made enough money to take care of our basic needs. However, she never allowed finances to dash my college dreams.
“You will go to college, no matter what,” she’d say to me.
I took her words to heart and started researching colleges during my high school years. In the 10th grade, I ran across an article on Howard University in Ebony Magazine. I was immediately smitten by the school. Not only did it have a tradition of excellence, but it also the alma mater of many notable Americans such as Phylicia Rashad, Debbie Allen, Zora Neale Hurston, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Amiri Baraka, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Andrew Young, Carter G. Woodson, and many others. I wanted to be a part of the legacy.
I worked hard in high school and got a few academic scholarships, but they weren’t enough to pay for tuition plus room and board for both semesters. I was worried that my dreams would be dashed, but my mother remained steadfast.
“Don’t worry about the money,” she said. “You just worry about graduating from college. Everything will work out.”
Guess what? Everything did work out. My mother’s faith and determination (not to mention a few well-timed scholarships, grants, and loans) helped me to make it to graduation.
On that first day at Howard, I stood in the middle of campus and took it all in – the history, the knowledge, the culture. I was excited, scared and optimistic at the same time. Little did I know that my time at Howard would allow me to meet celebrities, politicians and authors (I had the pleasure of attending Howard with actors Carl Payne and Anthony Anderson, politicians Kasim Reed and Amari Baraka, and hip-hop mogul Sean “Puffy” Combs). I attend the Congressional Black Caucus Ball (twice), traveled along the East Coast, made long-lasting friendships, got my first article published in a national magazine, and met my future wife.
That first day on campus was the beginning of amazing things, and my time at Howard helped shape me into the man I am today. However, many kids don’t get the opportunity to attend college and experience these things, because they lack information or the necessary financial resources.
That’s why I’ve decided to partner with the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program, which is designed to build confidence, encourage high academic achievement, and provide financial resources to deserving students.
I’ve worked with this program several times before, and they continue to make improvements. This summer, the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program will reward up to 20 deserving high school teens with a $5,000 scholarship and an invitation to attend the all new Coca-Cola Pay It Forward Academy, a three-day educational development experience for the winners and their parents. Parents will receive helpful tips on how to help their teens to be successful in school and how to financially prepare them for college. For teens, the programming will focus on topics like personal branding, higher education and alternative career paths.
For the second year, comedian, author, philanthropist and media mogul, Steve Harvey, will serve as the program’s celebrity ambassador. Here’s how the 2015 Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program will work:
- The program is open to high school teens in grades 9-12
- Nominators and nominees must be 13 years of age or older
- Eligible teens can nominate themselves
- Nominations should be made on the program’s website, www.coke.com/payitforward
- Up to twenty winners will be selected
- Each winner will receive a $5,000 scholarship and a trip from their hometown for them and their mom/legal guardian to attend the Coca-Cola Pay It Forward Academy, July 24-26, 2015 in Atlanta, GA
- Nominations will be accepted through March 31, 2015.
- Winners will be selected and contacted near the end of May
The Coca-Cola Pay It Forward program is a movement to uplift and inspire the next generation of teens to realize their dreams through education, mentorship experiences, and scholarship.
As the first person in my family to graduate from college, I’m passionate about helping kids to achieve their academic dreams. I encourage you to take the time to nominate a deserving teen because this opportunity could make a huge difference in his or her life. Visit coke.com/payitforward for complete rules and eligibility requirements, and join the conversation online using #CokePayItForward.
Disclosure: The Coca-Cola Company provided promotional consideration for my participation in this program.