Over the summer, Justice Powe was in her first semester at the University of South Florida when she went home to Riverview to celebrate her birthday and the Fourth of July holiday.
Earlier in the year, the 18-year-old applied for a scholarship from USF’s Black Leadership Network (BLN), a relatively new group on campus that offers education assistance and leadership opportunities to African-American students.
While she was at a family party, Powe finally received an email from the university – but it was her mom who saw it first.
“She gave me the phone, she said, ‘Read this out loud to the whole family.’ So I read it out loud that I had received the scholarship and I was blown away," said Powe. "I was so excited because I was so doubtful about getting this scholarship, but when I got it, it was just an overwhelming, confident feeling.”
The scholarship means quite a bit to the biomedical sciences major.
“It’ll help me get through school because biomedical sciences is a four or five-year commitment, and I didn’t want to worry about funds or anything, so I think it’s really good that I can pursue that biomedical track and go into biotechnology,” she said.
Now, thanks to a $2.1 million dollar grant from the Helios Education Foundation to the BLN, as many as 40 African-American USF students a year will receive similar scholarships. Currently, 12 students, including Powe, receive scholarships.
“It’s the first time that the Black Leadership Network has gotten a grant of this size, it’s a large grant that will be an endowed scholarship fund that will help in perpetuity," said Joel Momberg, the CEO of the USF Foundation.
The scholarships should give students the ability to graduate faster and with less debt.
In addition, the BLN gives them the opportunity to meet and learn from its members, including many Tampa Bay area African-American business leaders.
“Mentorship is really a key for the Black Leadership Network because they have so many terrific individuals within their ranks, and I know the students have gravitated toward many of them,” said Momberg.
Jerry Bell is a founding member of the Network. At an event last week announcing the grant, the former tight end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, turned IT company owner talked about the relationship between USF and the Helios Education Foundation.
“Our partnership may allow an African-American student who may not be able to afford to finish college the opportunity to stay in school and do just that, finish, obtain a degree," said Bell. "This partnership may allow an African-American student who’s working two jobs and not have the time to devote to education, let’s eliminate one or two of those jobs – think about what that student can accomplish with that extra time.”
Helios, which helps college students in Arizona and Florida, has given almost $16 million to the university for scholarships and other programs, since 2007. Helios is also an underwriter for WUSF Public Media.
At the announcement event, Helios Founding Chairman Vince Roig said supporting students in need is extremely important, particularly in contentious times.
"Regardless of the rhetoric that we hear today, coming from all sorts of places, we raise everyone up - we get there - and we get there together," he said.
And the scholarship is going to provide one more bit of motivation for Justice Powe – the motivation to one day return to USF and help another student just like Helios is helping her.
“I do believe in giving back, I think it’s just so wonderful that somebody took the time to donate to me, so I definitely want to open doors for other kids and start a scholarship of my own maybe one day to help fund college expenses for other people.”