CLEVELAND — Getting into—and staying—in college is a challenge for many students, but especially for some students of color. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national college graduation rate for black students is 40% -- 20% less than the average.
A local organization is working to support those students both financially and professionally -- and making our community a better land for students like Ty’Shawn Simon.
"I knew I wanted to graduate college, I knew I wanted to change. I wanted to do something better,” Simon, a student at Cleveland State University, said.
Simon is the first person in his family to go to college, making the new challenges even trickier to navigate.
"It was a whole different, a whole different pace. And then I had to learn like, okay, I need to get those study groups, I need to talk to people, advisers and mentors and things like that,” Simon said.
That's where the Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation stepped in. It's a local organization formed to financially support community projects, but its primary focus is providing scholarships - and support - to black students through its Scholars Program.
Since the foundation was founded 39 years ago, its given out more than $3.5 million in scholarships and grants.
More than 70% of those students are considered low to moderate income and more than 60% are first generation college students.
"That's particularly impactful here in Northeast Ohio, in Cleveland, which unfortunately, has a high poverty rate,” BPACF’s president, Ron Johnson, said.
The foundation raises money through donations and activities, including its annual gala honoring black professionals. Every year, at least 50 students get a scholarship between $500 and $2,000.
"That's really critical because we can get to college, but staying in college, we know the statistics around how many people drop out,” Meltrice Sharp, BPACF’s chair and treasurer, said.
Now, Ty'Shawn's in his sophomore year of college studying mechanical engineering and interning at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. They’re opportunities he likely would not have had if not for BPACF. So he's encouraging others to just apply.
"It can erase a lot of that doubt that people have and give them the opportunity to go to college and chase their dreams,” Simon said.
BPACF also has a number of other programs in addition to the Scholars Program, including the College to Career Series. It’s a group of events that encourage students to complete college and advance themselves in their chosen careers.
It also has the Career Connect Internship Program, a workforce development initiative designed to help enrich the professional lives of minorities up to the age of 24. These young professionals are matched with an internship opportunity that matches up with their college major.
If you want to donate to the Black Professionals Association Charitable Foundation, you can visit their website: http://www.bpacf.org/Donate
More information about the Scholars Program, College to Career Series, and Career Connect Internship Program can be found here.
This story is part of A Better Land , an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here .