Howard University recently announced a $5 million gift from alumni Eddie C. Brown (B.S.E.E. ’61) and C. Sylvia Brown(B.S. ’62), donated to support the Graduation Retention Access to Continued Excellence (GRACE) Grant for students facing financial barriers. It is the largest donation from alumni in the HBCU’s 154-year history.
Eddie Brown is the founder, chairman and CEO of Brown Capital Management, a Baltimore-based asset management firm that is the second oldest African-American-owned investment management firm in the world.
“We are extremely grateful to Eddie and Sylvia for making this historic gift to Howard University,” said Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick. “The GRACE Grant has helped to eliminate financial barriers to education for Howard students, and I am thrilled that the Browns were inspired to commit such a generous gift to this important fund. My hope is that students will be inspired by their story and generosity and that others in our alumni community will consider the many ways they, too, can impact current and future generations of Howard students.”
The Browns met on Howard’s campus in 1957. Eddie came to Howard from Allentown, Pennsylvania at just 16 years old as a student in the College of Engineering, and Sylvia came to Howard from King William, Virginia as a student in what was then the College of Liberal Arts.
While equally committed to education, the couple recall two very different stories as it pertains to their opportunities to pursue a college education. Whereas Sylvia came from a family of educators and always knew she had the support to pursue higher education, Eddie’s journey to Howard was made possible because of a caring teacher and anonymous “angel” donor.
“I moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania when I was 15,” said Eddie. “We had a community organizer that would look out for the young Black children in the community. He came to me and my mother one day and said, ‘I was contacted by a woman who wants to help a young African-American student go to college.’ And it was my 10th grade English teacher, actually, who was a graduate of Howard [who] said, ‘You should go to Howard University.’”
At the time, Eddie was one of only seven Black students in his class at Allentown High School. Just three of the seven students were in college preparatory classes, and the other two students had the financial means to go to college. Because he came from a low-income family, Eddie was chosen to receive a scholarship that covered his tuition, room and board, and textbooks during his time at Howard.
This story and their mutual love for Howard is what inspired the couple to contribute the historic gift in support of the GRACE Grant. This gift represents what Sylvia says is not giving back, but “paying it forward.”
“We were very fortunate to be able to go to Howard,” she said. “I had student loans, and I know how hard that is. Being from a family of four, my parents did the best they could, but that was never enough to pay for all the fees. And that’s been our mantra, to give to others and help them at least be able to get an undergraduate degree so they have a good foundation.”
The GRACE Grant was established by President Frederick to help remove any financial barriers for students and encourage on-time graduation for students who successfully completed their freshman year. This need-based program, created in 2014, provides a 100 percent match for students who receive the maximum Federal Pell Grant and provides additional funding for those with an expected family contribution (EFC) of $0.
The impact of the GRACE Grant is clear. Since its inception, GRACE recipients saw an average 17 percent increase in retention and an average four-year graduation rate of 78 percent, a 32 percent increase compared to students in the same financial category who did not receive GRACE funds.
“I remember a minister of ours said something that we never forgot,” said Eddie. “That those who are blessed should be a blessing to someone, especially those less fortunate. We always remember that. I was blessed to receive my college education debt free, and I think it’s important to offer those less fortunate the opportunity to do so as well.”
“Our only hope is that students who benefit from our contribution do their best,” said Sylvia.
[Photo via PR Newswire; content from Howard University Communications/ Misha Cornelius]
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