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Animals

L.A. City Council Confirms Denise M. Verret as Zoo Director of the Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — Los Angeles City Council confirmed today the Mayor’s nomination of Denise M. Verret to serve as the new Zoo Director of the Los Angeles Zoo. Verret previously served as the Zoo’s interim Zoo Director while a nationwide search was conducted by the Mayor’s office, and she will assume her new role immediately.

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Verret Now Serves as the First African American Female Zoo Director of an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Accredited Institution (Courtesy photo)

By Sentinel News Service

Los Angeles City Council confirmed today the Mayor’s nomination of Denise M. Verret to serve as the new Zoo Director of the Los Angeles Zoo. Verret previously served as the Zoo’s interim Zoo Director while a nationwide search was conducted by the Mayor’s office, and she will assume her new role immediately.

“It’s been a pleasure to work with Denise as the interim Zoo Director,” said L.A. Zoo Commission President Karen Winnick. “Her passion and concern for the well-being of the animals, her dedication to the Zoo’s mission, and her leadership and organizational skills that make Denise a great choice to be our new L.A. Zoo Director.”

As the Zoo Director, Verret will oversee the well-being of more than 1400 animals and nearly two million visitors each year. Verret will continue the Zoo’s mission of being a leader in conservation and saving animals from extinction and a champion of the highest standards in animal welfare. A top priority will be the implementation of the Zoo’s Vision Plan, a comprehensive redesign and redevelopment of the Zoo’s existing 133-acre site to replace outdated buildings and infrastructure and transform the Zoo into something that is uniquely Los Angeles.

“I would like to thank Mayor Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council members for their vote of confidence in my serving as the next Zoo Director of the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens,” said Verret. “As the Los Angeles Zoo continues to evolve, I’m humbled to be working alongside the best and brightest staff and volunteers as we strive to make the Los Angeles Zoo an institution that thrives and is relevant and meaningful for all people from all backgrounds.”

Prior to serving as the interim Zoo Director, Verret held the position of the Zoo’s Deputy Director since 2000. During her 19-year tenure, Verret provided executive leadership over a variety of functions and major operations including Finance, Administration, Information Technology, Human Resources, Admissions and Guest Relations, Capital Projects, Planning and Development, Public Relations, and Education and Interpretive Programs. Among Verret’s many achievements include directing the development of the Zoo’s Strategic Plan, Vision Plan, and the Business and Marketing Plan. Verret began her City career in 1988 at the Office of the City Administrative Officer (CAO) until she promoted to the L.A. Zoo. Verret earned her Bachelor of Science in Administrative Studies at the University of California Riverside.

Verret serves as example to her zoological peers by becoming the first female African American Zoo Director of an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited institution in its history. The AZA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums since 1924 that has been accrediting zoos and aquariums since 1974. Verret has been very active in the AZA having served on the Business Operations, Annual Conference Program, and Nominating committees. Verret currently serves as an AZA accreditation inspector, as well as a member of the Government Affairs and Diversity committees.

“As the first female African American Zoo Director of an AZA-accredited Zoo, I have the opportunity to be an example for all women of color to dream big and aim high for leadership roles in their profession. As I accept this position, I am reminded of the strong, driven female mentors who paved the way for me, and I’m honored to continue the tradition of helping to lift up women to advance their career which enriches and diversifies our city.”

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel. 

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Poor People’s Campaign Mobilized in DC This Week

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — This week in Washington, the powers that be are hearing from a vital new democratic force in this country.

For three days, the Poor People’s Campaign will bring poor and low-wage Americans to the nation’s capital to call for a moral renewal in this nation. They will question many of those who are seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Congressional hearings will showcase their Poor People’s Moral Budget.

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Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rev. Dr. William Barber II

By Jesse Jackson

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – This week in Washington, the powers that be are hearing from a vital new democratic force in this country.

For three days, the Poor People’s Campaign will bring poor and low-wage Americans to the nation’s capital to call for a moral renewal in this nation. They will question many of those who are seeking the Democratic nomination for president. Congressional hearings will showcase their Poor People’s Moral Budget.

Their actions should be above the fold of every newspaper in America; they should lead the news shows and fill the talk shows. A movement for common sense and social justice is building, putting every politician on notice: lead or get out of the way, a new moral majority is building and demanding change.

As the co-chairs of the Poor People’s Campaign, the Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, write in their forward, this movement is not partisan. It calls not for liberal or conservative reforms, but for a moral renewal. It is not a deep-pocket lobby. It is mobilizing the 144 million Americans who are poor or one crisis away from poverty into a “new and unsettling force” to “revive the heart of democracy in America.”

This movement launched on Mother’s Day in May 2018. In 40 days, it triggered 200 actions across many states with 5,000 nonviolent demonstrators committing civil disobedience, and millions following the protests online. Forty states now have coordinating committees build a coalition of poor people and people of faith and conscience across lines of race, religion, region and other lines of division.

They are morally outraged that the richest nation in the world would in a “willful act of policy violence” condemn 140 million — more than 40 percent of the population — to live in poverty or near poverty. This includes 39 million children, 60 percent — 26 million — of African Americans, 64 percent — 38 million — of Latinos, more than one-third — 66 million — of white Americans.

These realities — and the extreme inequality that scars this society — pre-date the Trump administration, but now Trump is fanning increasing policy violence against the poor. In response, the Poor People’s Campaign is doing deep organizing and power building among the poor, turning them from victims to subject actors in history.

This week, the campaign releases their Poor People’s Moral Budget. It details authoritatively that the cost of our current inequality, the cost of mass poverty is far greater than what it would cost to invest in people, put them to work at a living wage and guarantee basic economic and political rights. It costs society big time to not provide health care or quality education or clean water and air, to suppress voting rights and to keep wages low.

The moral budget is detailed and authoritatively sourced. The numbers are clear, as is the conclusion.

As the document concludes, “We have been investing in killing people; we must now invest in life. We have been investing in systemic racism and voter suppression; we must now invest in expanding democracy. We have been investing in punishing the poor; we must now invest in the welfare of all. We have been investing in the wealthy and corporations; we must now invest in the people who build this country.”

This is not a time for incremental change, but for fundamental transformation of our priorities and our direction. The budget details large reforms — from automatic voter registration, a living wage, health care for all, quality education from pre-k through college, investment in clean energy and modern infrastructure. It details how these and other reforms can be easily afforded by fair taxes on the wealthy and corporations and by ending our effort to police the world.

The Poor People’s Campaign picks up the unfinished work of Dr. Martin Luther King. It realizes that ending the policy of violence on the poor at home cannot be achieved without challenging the costly endless wars and constant arms buildup that only make us less secure. It understands that change will come not from the top down, not from our corrupted big money politics, but from the poor, the worker, people of conscience coming together to revive our democracy and to change our course.

In these troubled times, the promise of this new force is powerful. Across the country, working and poor people are beginning to move. If this movement can continue to grow, it will transform our politics. And it is the only force that can.

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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High Blood Pressure is Major Cause of Concern in African American Community

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, making it that much more dangerous. Unless treated, however, the consequences to your health can be serious.

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Blood Pressure screening (Courtesy photo)

By Sentinel News Service

May is National High Blood Pressure Month, and it’s important to understand this health condition, and know how to protect yourself from what’s often been called a “Silent Killer!”

Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, making it that much more dangerous. Unless treated, however, the consequences to your health can be serious.

African Americans are more likely to suffer from hypertension, which can be attributed to that community’s extra sensitivity to salt, a major factor that can cause high blood pressure.

That’s why it’s important for African Americans to better  understand this health condition, and know how to protect themselves. High blood pressure typically has no signs or symptoms, which makes it that much more dangerous. In fact, it’s for that reason that hypertension is often called a “Silent Killer.”

African Americans have a higher prevalence of hypertension and are more likely to develop it at a younger age, according to data from the American Heart Association, said Dr. Jennifer Nguyen, a cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

“While there are a variety of genetic, environmental, social and lifestyle factors that can put individuals at an increased risk of developing hypertension, there are ways to help prevent and manage hypertension successfully,” Dr. Nguyen said. “Getting one’s blood pressure checked regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, eating heart-healthy and low-sodium foods, exercising regularly and limiting alcohol consumption are lifestyle changes that can aid in the prevention of hypertension, stroke, heart disease and other cardiovascular-related health problems.”

 What is high blood pressure?

When a nurse takes your blood pressure, he/she measures the force of blood that’s being pushed against the walls of your blood vessels. If your blood pressure is high, this means the pressure of blood flowing in your arteries is higher than desired. This causes your heart to work harder, which could eventually result in heart failure, stroke or a heart attack.

Ideally, normal blood pressure should be below 120/80 mm Hg.

According to the American Heart Association, the following risk factors increase your probability of developing high blood pressure:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking and being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Being obese or overweight
  • A diet high in salt
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

“If you have high blood pressure, whatever you do, don’t ignore it,” Dr. Nguyen cautioned. “Hypertension is a health condition that can result in serious repercussions to your health. However, once diagnosed, it can be treated, which is why it should be monitored on a regular basis.”

Kaiser Permanente offers valuable information on the subject of African Americans and heart disease, and how to best manage high blood pressure.

This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel

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Black History

CENSUS CHAMPIONS – Jeri Green’s Life-Long Crusade to Reverse Historic Undercounts

CHARLESTON CHRONICLE — Jeri Green’s passion for the census is still sunrise bright. An outspoken champion of the concerns of African Africans and any people who have been diminished, marginalized or systemically undercounted, she is an enthusiastic and determined advocate for how participation in the census can contribute to healthier communities and a more equitable America.

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Jeri Green at her desk at the US Census Bureau in 2016. For over three decades, Green has helped make the decennial census a leading civil rights issue, both as a Census Bureau insider, and now as an advocate for the National Urban League

By Khalil Abdullah

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jeri Green’s passion for the census is still sunrise bright. An outspoken champion of the concerns of African Africans and any people who have been diminished, marginalized or systemically undercounted, she is an enthusiastic and determined advocate for how participation in the census can contribute to healthier communities and a more equitable America.

“Let’s talk about the need for public education,” Green said. “We know African American children continue to be undercounted every census and likely will be so again in 2020. Same for Latino and Native American children. When we say, ‘Count every child in your household,’ it means just that. Grandchildren count, foster kids count, play cousins count. Unless this message is delivered and repeated over and over, families will miss receiving resources that are rightfully theirs.”

“And, quite frankly, why can’t we do a better job of counting formerly incarcerated Black men? We already know they are a disproportionate percentage of the over 650,000 individuals coming back to our communities from jails and prisons every year. They are returning citizens and we should be able to design ways to make sure they show up in the census as well.”

During her 20-year career at the Census Bureau, Green coordinated visits by congresspersons, the General Accounting Office and the Inspector General’s personnel, among others, to census field sites. “Individuals who have oversight responsibility or whose agencies conduct audits to make sure taxpayer dollars are being well spent, have a right to inspect and observe, but those visits have to be scheduled and conducted in a way that doesn’t interfere with the enumeration process or the public’s right to privacy.”

In 2017, she retired as Senior Advisor for Civic Engagement to former U.S. Census Bureau Director, John Thompson.

“He had left the Census Bureau and returned after a decade as a political appointee. He asked me to help him get reacquainted with the issues and concerns of the Civil Rights community, to establish some outreach.”

Green’s experience made her ideally suited for the task.

“When I started full-time, I was working on the advisory committee level,” she recalled. “In addition to serving as the liaison to the technical advisory committee, I was responsible for the five ethnic stand-alone advisory committees: Black; Hispanic; Native American and Alaskan; Asian; Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

“Back then, each committee had its own chair and vice chair. My job was to understand their needs, engage with them and get to know and understand their issues. I just thought I could automatically do this, that it was just a natural fit for me because – I’m Black! And I know all these issues. Wrong, wrong, and more wrong,” she said laughing.

“You cannot just assume, because you’re a person of color, that you understand another culture. It took time to talk to Native Americans, to understand the road they traveled and their customs. It was the same for each of those committees. It was a very humbling experience that made me a stronger employee and a stronger translator for the Census Bureau. I had to develop a level of trust that the Bureau didn’t have with these communities.”

Regarding her decision to resign, she said when Director Thompson opted to leave in 2017, “I followed him out the door. It was time.”

Her 10 years of prior employment in the District of Columbia government counted toward federal retirement eligibility. Reasons for leaving were personal and professional. For one, the politicization of the Census Bureau, under the Department of Commerce’s then new Secretary Wilbur Ross, carried some weight.

Green opposes Ross’s efforts to add a question on citizenship to the 2020 form. She concurs with other experts that doing so would likely reduce the number of survey respondents and thus undermine the government’s constitutional mandate to count all residents. But, the citizenship dispute, soon to be decided by the Supreme Court, was just one factor in her decision.

Despite the Census Bureau’s growing emphasis and reliance on technology for the 2020 count, “we are still going to need human capital and the funds won’t be there,” Green said. During the Obama administration, the Republican-controlled Congress mandated that 2020 Census costs be held to the life-cycle costs of the 2010 Census. “Who in the world can buy 2020 groceries on a 2010 budget?” she asks. In her opinion, already, and as a direct result of insufficient funding, there have been other consequences that may negatively impact census accuracy.

Between imagining how her daily work might be constrained and what she would do with more time to herself – continue practicing and performing with D.C.’s own KanKouran West African Dance Troupe or devoting longer hours to genealogical research – the idea of retirement began to fit like a favorite garment. She didn’t see the phone call coming, but she heard the message loud and clear.

“Marc Morial dialed me up on my cell phone right after I retired from the Census Bureau and said, ‘We need you,’” Green recalled. As president of the National Urban League (NUL) for over 15 years, a two-term mayor of New Orleans, and a former Louisiana state legislator, Morial knows and understands how census-derived revenue pours into county and city coffers to fund infrastructure projects and social service programs.

Morial chaired the 2010 Census Advisory Committee, an entity not reconstituted by the Trump administration for the 2020 Census. The committee focused on Hard-To-Count communities and had become part of Green’s portfolio during Morial’s tenure. Green now serves as senior advisor to the NUL on the 2020 Census and is a key participant in the NUL’s Census 2020 Black Roundtable, but her path to the NUL began long before.

Just as the Morial family can trace part of its lineage to the Whitney Plantation in Louisiana, Green’s folk, on her mother’s side, are descendants from formerly enslaved laborers on the Worsley Plantation near Rocky Mount in Edgecombe County, North Carolina.

Green was born in Washington, D.C., a descendant of part of the African American Worsley migration that eventually settled here. “My grandfather used to make me and my little sister hoe-cakes. He couldn’t read or write, nor could his mother, who was a formerly enslaved woman.”

After Eastern High School, Green pursued her undergraduate degree in Afro-American studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. At the time, there was no rapid public transportation linking her Washington neighborhood to the College Park campus as the D.C. Metrorail system had not been built. Without a car, the bus ride stretched out interminably. Travel time proved less a barrier than the social climate she encountered.

“Yes, it was only 15 miles, but it was like going to the Deep South, culturally and otherwise,” Green explained. “It was a real eye-opener for me. The whole blackface thing with Gov. Northam in Virginia? That was nothing. We saw blackface all the time at College Park in the 70s, a land-grant university built by formerly enslaved people.”

At College Park, she also encountered the Pan Africanism of Kwame Turé, the former Stokely Carmichael. “He made regular visits out there and would encourage us to be active and to fight injustice. We were the ones who fought for tenure for Black professors, for African American studies programs, and for the establishment of the Nyumburu Cultural Center, which provides a physical space for meetings and activities and is still there today.”

“African Americans are struggling to deal with police brutality, voter suppression, gentrification, and access to health care … so getting them to turn their attention to the census takes time and commitment.”

While earning her master’s degree in Urban Planning and Urban Affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, Green had her first prolonged encounter with “reams and reams of census data.” Job opportunities brought her back home where she worked for a few organizations before being hired by the D.C. Department of Public Works. It was a sprawling agency that Green recalls “was responsible for almost anything in the city with wheels, from public transportation to trash collection” before its duties were parceled out in a city government reorganization. Most of her time was spent working out of the mayor’s executive office. She served under Mayors Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt Kelly.

A mentor encouraged her to apply for openings at the Department of Commerce during its recruitment drive to staff the 2000 Census.

“I left a full-time job at the District government to join the Census Bureau as a temporary employee in 1997,” Green said.

The practice of bringing former temporary workers aboard after a decennial year is not unusual, those workers’ skills and performance having been subject to evaluation by Census Bureau staff who can then make full-time job offers to the best prospects.

Green is a veteran of three censuses. “I worked on the run-up to the 2000 Census; through the 2010 Census; and for the run-up for the 2020 Census when I left the Bureau in 2017, and I’m still working on 2020 issues with the National Urban League.”

“African Americans are struggling to deal with police brutality, voter suppression, gentrification, and access to health care,” she observed, “so getting them to turn their attention to the census takes time and commitment. But when you look at the issue of Black men being counted where they are incarcerated instead of where they reside, and how that affects political representation and the electoral process, what we at the National Urban League call prison-based gerrymandering, and then you also count the per-person census dollars lost to their communities because, again, that money stays within the communities not their own where they are imprisoned, we cannot remain silent.”

Green still bristles as she talks about the first census in 1790 when African Americans were not counted as full human beings – Native Americans not counted at all. And she has found, within an analysis of the 1860 Census data – and, due to the Civil War, the last census that recorded a captive population – names and information on some of her forebears in North Carolina. She knows full well, however, that most Africans Americans won’t be as fortunate in their quest for family, kinship, and identity.

“Instead of being defiant and not participating in the census, be defiant and let America know we’re still here,” Green inveighed.

Looking to the other side of the 2020 Census, Green envisions more time with children, grandchildren, and, she said, quite frankly, “I’m trying to be on somebody’s beach.”

This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle

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COMMENTARY: The Congressional Black Caucus must oppose HR 246

NNPA NEWSWIRE — The US Congress cannot have it both ways. It cannot, on the one hand, attack the Palestinians when they have used violence to oppose the occupation while at the same time attacking the Palestinians for using non-violent protests against the Israeli occupation. This is particularly the case given that the United Nations has roundly condemned the Israeli occupation as illegal.

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Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com. He is the author of the new mystery The Man Who Fell From the Sky.

By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Newswire Contributor

Think about it this way. If every tactic that was used by African Americans in the Civil Rights Movement and/or in the fight against apartheid South Africa was either criminalized or attacked by the US Congress, how would you respond?

HR 246 is a bill before Congress that attacks the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions (BDS) movement that emerged as a NON-VIOLENT response to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. BDS is a form of economic pressure on the Israeli state that is the equivalent of an international Montgomery bus boycott. It is saying that Israeli human rights abuses and violations of international law will simply not be tolerated.

The US Congress cannot have it both ways. It cannot, on the one hand, attack the Palestinians when they have used violence to oppose the occupation while at the same time attacking the Palestinians for using non-violent protests against the Israeli occupation. This is particularly the case given that the United Nations has roundly condemned the Israeli occupation as illegal.

Efforts around the USA to criminalize those who support the Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement flaunt the Constitution. We are supposed to have the right to peacefully protest. There is no exception when it comes to the question of Israel. There is nothing in the US Constitution that suggests that the people of the USA cannot protest the actions of another country.

To argue that there is something wrong with engaging in or supporting BDS is to argue that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; the Israeli refusal to recognize international law when it comes to the right of return for refugees; and the Israeli atrocities against peaceful protesters in the Gaza Strip is permissible.

We, African Americans, have heard such nonsense before and we have cast it aside. In the face of oppression, people resist and we—African Americans—have generally been at the forefront of those who supported resistance. We are called upon to express our solidarity again.

Call your Congressional Representatives immediately. Call them whether they are members of the Congressional Black Caucus or not. Call them and tell them that you have no interest in them siding with those who would have criminalized the Civil Rights Movement or the anti-apartheid movement.

Tell them that you side with freedom! Oppose HR 246! Here is where you can go to find YOUR Congressional Representative: https://www.house.gov/representatives

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com. Look for his mystery novel: The Man Who Fell From the Sky.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BlackPressUSA.com or the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

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Detroit native and Morehouse grad promised to have students loans paid off by billionaire

MICHIGAN COURIER — When recent Morehouse College graduate Kristopher Mathis moves to Chicago July 15 to start as a sales consultant at Amazon, he will not have to worry about student loans. That is because billionaire Robert F. Smith told the all-male Morehouse class of 2019 that he would pay off the student loans for the entire class of 396. The total amount Is estimated at $40 million.

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Kris Mathis was the only Detroiter to graduate from Morehouse College’s class of 2019.

When recent Morehouse College graduate Kristopher Mathis moves to Chicago July 15 to start as a sales consultant at Amazon, he will not have to worry about student loans. That is because billionaire Robert F. Smith told the all-male Morehouse class of 2019 that he would pay off the student loans for the entire class of 396. The total amount Is estimated at $40 million.

Mathis, 21, who hails from the East English Village neighborhood on Detroit’s east side, and graduated from University of Detroit Jesuit High School in 2015, was looking at roughly $57,000 in student loan debt prior to Smith’s commencement speech May 19. Debt that could have taken him years to pay off was gone with 11 words from Smith’s mouth.

“I was shocked, and I had to take a double take,” said Mathis, who graduated cum laude, with a degree in business administration, with a concentration in marketing and a minor in sales. “I honestly couldn’t process what he had just said. Immediately after he said that, my mom texted me and told me to thank him. And that’s just what I did.

“When I was getting my diploma on stage, Mr. Smith was there. I shook his hand and told him that he was a true blessing, not only to myself, but to the other 395 brothers who were in my gradutiaon class.”

Billionaire Robert F. Smith announced during Sunday’s commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta said that he and his family would pay off the entire graduating class’s student debt.

In the fall of 2015, 750 males started off as freshmen at Morehouse College, which has produced icons such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Spike Lee, Julian Bond, Herman Cain, and many others. By graduation day Sunday, only 396 walked across the stage in Atlanta. Mathis believes many students left because they could not afford the $50,000 per year it takes to study at Morehouse College.

“I know I couldn’t 50,000 a year,” said Mathis. “But my first year, I took that leap of faith, understanding that Morehouse was where I wanted to be. I created a plan for how I was going to get things paid for and in the end, God blessed me to where I don’t have to worry about that now, thanks to Mr. Smith and his generosity.”

Finances play a vital part in deciding which college to attend. For Mathis, he took the advice of his Midnight Golf Program mentors and others to get as many scholarships as he could. In the end, he took out a loan to cover part of his $50,000 per year costs for tuition, room and board at Morehouse. He credits that experience with helping him get serious his senior year of high school and is still close with his Midnight Golf friends and mentors.

The Midnight Golf Program was founded in 2001 by Reneé Fluker, a social worker and single mother who noticed the impact golf had on her son’s life. Today, the program serves 250 Detroit area high school seniors annually, participating in a 30-week curriculum to learn the game of golf, build relationships with mentors, and develop life skills required for college and career success. Midnight Golf helps seniors enter college and continues mentoring throughout college and into the graduates’ professional careers.

“Kris is one of our stars of Midnight Golf,” said Winston Coffee, College Liaison and College Success Coach for Midnight Golf. “You could tell early in our program that he was a determined young person and his choice of Morehouse made perfect since. We’ve been proud of his matriculation and watched as he seized opportunities in Atlanta. When we heard about the generous gift to the Morehouse graduates, we were thrilled for Kris and his family.”

Student loan debt has become a national crisis. Over 44 million borrowers owe more than $1.5 billion collectively and the student loan delinquency rate remains relatively high at 11.4 percent. Worse, more than 609,000 people owe more than $200,000 on their student loan, and 1.3 million owe between $100,000 and $150,000. It is a scary reality for many Americans, having to payback money for college they do not have.

For Mathis, he said he was blessed to only owe about $57,000 and not the six figures that others in his class owed prior to Smith’s gift. He comes from a middle-class working family and a large majority of his loans were taken out by his parents under the Parent PLUS loan program. It is not clear what all will be covered under Smith’s promise, but Mathis and his parents, Derrick and Printess, were all smiling after the news.

“A month or two from now, I was expecting to receive a bill from the government for my student loans,” said Mathis. “Now I can save more of my money and begin into invest in things that will make my money work for me. Ultimately, Mr. Smith has put me in a better financial situation, as well as my family.”

Mathis said he is proud to be a Morehouse man now and wants to reciprocate the gift Smith gave to him to future Morehouse graduates, maybe not in terms of money but through mentorship. But first, he wants to see Smith follow through with his own promise.

“I’m very curious to see the terms and conditions of Mr. Smith’s promise. I want to see the fine print,” said Mathis. “I know that he has the means and power to wipeout all the student loans debts and the Parent PLUS loans, but I’m hoping he follows through. That was a big statement to make and I’m looking forward to see how the process will play out.”

Morehouse College provided a statement on Smith’s financial promise. He received an honorary doctorate from Morehouse during the ceremony and had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the school.

“We, at Morehouse College, would like to thank Vista Equity Partners founder, Chairman & CEO Robert F. Smith, our honorary alumnus, for the surprise gift that he offered to the graduating class at Morehouse’s 135th Commencement ceremony. To be free from the financial burden of paying off student loans will be life-changing for the Class of 2019. Our Office of Business and Finance, as well as our Office of Enrollment Management, have been working diligently to calculate the student loan debt and other details of this gift. As soon as we have a final figure, we will share it with our new graduates so that they can continue on the path to careers and top-tier graduate schools student loan debt free.”

This article originally appeared in the Michigan Chronicle

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