The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation on Monday launched a new relief fund for black students, alumni and dropouts overburdened by rising education costs and the student debt crisis.
The foundation said it has set aside $500,000 for the fund and plans to award more than 500 recipients with relief payments ranging from $750 to $4,500. A public application process for the fund opened on Monday and recipients will receive their money in January if selected. Details about the fund were shared with The Associated Press ahead of the launch.
The BLM Foundation’s Student Solidarity Fund is an extension of a previous initiative launched last year as millions of Americans struggled to make ends meet amid economic uncertainty related to the coronavirus pandemic. This time, the foundation said it intends to use philanthropic dollars to bring attention to issues of economic injustice, especially as a proposed federal student debt cancellation plan is blocked by disputes with opponents.
“The fact is, black people who are working to get an education are struggling right now,” said BLM foundation board chairman Cicley Gay. “We recognize that we cannot build a world of true liberation without the genius of black people who are committed to further education.”
The relief is for bachelor’s degree holders, as well as those who have not completed their degree but still have student loan debt. Applicants must have attended a college or university in the United States. The foundation asks applicants to submit loan documents to prove their eligibility.
If selected, applicants with debt of $75,000 or less will receive $1,500. Applicants with debt between $75,001 and $150,000 will receive $3,000. And applicants with debt of $150,001 or more will receive $4,500.
The money is not restricted to use only on student loan repayments, but the foundation said its relief funds are intended to help reduce recipients’ overall debt burdens.
In a second phase of the fund, the BLM Foundation said it will award microgrants of $750 to relief fund applicants who are currently attending historically black colleges and universities, to help with the costs of housing, food, technology , books and transportation.
Foundation board secretary Shalomyah Bowers, who heads the consulting firm the movement organization hired to build its philanthropic capacity, said applicants to the Student Solidarity Fund don’t have to prove that they are black. But fund administrators will work to weed out the scammers.
“Black people shouldn’t have to jump through hoops and leap over obstacles to get the access they need,” he said.
Tahir Murray, HBCU ambassador for the BLM Foundation’s Student Solidarity Fund, said he hears black students all the time saying the lack of scholarships and grants is a persistent distraction from their studies.
“Black students have disproportionate access to aid and resources that take into account historical discrimination and the experiences of black people navigating a society that does not see or treat us as equals,” said Murray, graduate in 2021 from Howard University and owner of the HBCU lifestyle brand LegacyHistoryPride.
The relief fund comes less than two weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether the Biden administration can pursue a blanket student loan forgiveness plan. In August, President Joe Biden said the government would forgive $10,000 in student loan debt for Americans with annual incomes below $125,000 and forgive up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients.
More than 26 million people had already applied for the aid, of which 16 million were approved. But the government stopped processing applications in November after a Texas federal judge overturned the plan. Conservative lawyers and Republican lawmakers are challenging the legality of the debt cancellation plan on the grounds that Biden cannot take this step without congressional approval.
A High Court ruling is expected by early summer.
“We could sit and wait, and hope lawmakers do what they promised by providing loan relief, or we could step in and do it ourselves. And we decided to do the latter,” Gay said.
Last year, as Americans waited for Congress to approve a $2 trillion coronavirus relief package that included direct payments of $1,400 to Americans earning less than $75,000, the BLM foundation granted $3 million. in microgrants of $1,000 to nearly 3,000 black people.
The initiative was launched just as the foundation opened up the tens of millions in donations it received after the 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a case that helped spark protests for racial justice in the United States and around the world. Earlier this year, the foundation revealed in a nonprofit tax return that it had nearly $42 million in net assets at the end of the last fiscal year.
The tax return also showed the foundation spent nearly $6 million on a Los Angeles-area property that includes a house with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a sound stage and offices. The property is intended to serve as a campus for a Black Artist Fellowship, the foundation said.
The financial revelations sparked a new wave of criticism from left and right in the political world and from inside and outside the broader BLM movement. Several months after the revelations, the structure of the foundation remains the same. It is governed by a three-member board of directors, including Gay and Bowers.
In August, a group of local chapters and activists known as the BLM Grassroots filed a lawsuit in California superior court against Bowers. The lawsuit alleges that he and his consulting firm broke an agreement to cede control of the foundation’s digital assets and finances to grassroots BLM organizers, allowing him to profit personally and professionally from increased donations.
Bowers told the AP the allegations were “frivolous” and untrue. A lawyer for the foundation filed a lawsuit last week asking a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Aaron Morrison is a New York-based member of the AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.