photo courtesy of virginia at community

By:RYAAN ALEXANDER BOYD

“This should have happened a long time ago.” That is what a director told me when I mentioned the idea about a scholarship fund for students in Virginia at community college transferring to historically black colleges and universities in Virginia. I wanted to share this article with how this idea came about and what I hoped it would accomplish as I started to share this vision.

The importance of Virginia HBCUs is impressive. They boast over $913 million dollars of economic impact from Virginia HBCUs and 9.3 billion in lifetime earnings for those graduates. Most people look at HBCUs as party or backup schools, but there is real value to be realized at these institutions. I was one of those people who did not understand the historical value of this type of learning environment and the rich legacy it welcomes you to after attending or graduating. It was fun. That is all I can really say. It was fun going to school at Hampton University after I was rejected from the University of Houston’s entrepreneurship program. It was fun seeing others around me who wanted similar things in life. It was also inspiring seeing other people who wanted different things. But the shared unity and mindset that we all were striving for something. Together. The experience truly changed my life and trajectory. Norfolk State is the institution I proudly graduated from because the tuition was so affordable, and they offered me a transfer scholarship. Finances were an obstacle for me attending university and I already incurred the debt as an out of state student. Several times, I almost dropped out due to not having enough funds. I am extremely grateful and blessed for my family and those who helped contribute to me receiving an education. Especially as a first generation college student. As I looked at this reality from retrospect, I thought about others who may have had the same story and how I could be of service to them– The other people who wanted to go to school but did not
have the money to go. Or the ones who really wanted to go to a top school but did not achieve the best GPA in high school due to testing anxieties. This scholarship and game really, was for them. And selfishly, it was for me.

Thomas Nelson, now known as Virginia Peninsula Community College, is where I started my journey. I was ashamed to be in the “13th grade” as they called it from the Peninsula District, and more specifically, Kecoughtan High School. I am from Hampton, Virginia, and there was absolutely nothing worse than going to TNCC or NSU when I was growing up. If you did not attend a PWI, options such as community college, HBCUs, or the military were ignorantly looked down upon. So, I went to the college parties at HU and ODU as a freshman like others in my position, and really enjoyed my time at the community college. It truly put me in a position to transfer to UH and then ultimately, finish at NSU. I met a lot of great people, made the basketball team (even though I did not play), and met a few of my all-time favorite professors (even post my MBA). VPCC gave me confidence and assurance and it allowed me to be the person I wanted to be. I wanted to showcase that with the scholarship that it is ok to leverage that college as a springing board and really raise awareness to just how impactful the school is to our community. When it was announced the name was changing, I thought it would be a perfect idea to find a way to give back. Initially, I was just going to donate money for a scholarship. But then I thought, how can I make this outlast me and how can I bring others along? I didn’t want credit behind this as much as I just wanted us to have a platform for a feasible and repeatable way to higher education and financial accessibility. The next step became finding a way to bring this idea to language people could rally behind and get excited about. This is where I turned to sports as a medium of communication.

I always loved basketball. Hampton, VA, and the broader Hampton Roads region is known for some of the best athletes in the USA. No need for me to list them out, but there is something special here. We have talent. But the talent often gets boxed into sports. My perspective was what happens after sports or if you want to pivot? I always remembered a teammate from my varsity team, who I believe, was easily a top 20 talent in the Peninsula that year. When he was hot, he was top 2 on our team (in my humble opinion). Grades were a challenge for him. Guidance was also a challenge for him. But he was the best teammate I had on that team. He was passionate, selfless, and knew how to hold you accountable as a motivator. He has been in jail for the last 13 years. There is no way he should not have had access to an education through playing basketball and if that is not what he wanted to do, he should have had the opportunity to play professionally overseas. Those were the types of stories that played in my head when I contemplated this idea. We have so much talent here and it gets overlooked through decisions that always isn’t as clear cut as one may like to think.

Fast-forward a few years, and I am 29 years old. This game was done on a smaller scale for middle school students at the University of Houston during undergrad for a social entrepreneurship class almost 10 years ago and I left the idea there. I really didn’t even think to bring something like this back home because I did not know there would be support for someone like me. Slightly awkward in a popular crowd, was known to do his own thing, but a cool guy if you got to know him. To some, I am sure I looked like the “jerk” who made it because I stayed in school and moved to DC for a tech career so I could one day start my own business to take care of my family. But truthfully, I think that is the similar story for most of us from here. We want to make a mark and we want our own legacy for our families. The area is very entrepreneurial. The opportunities I have been blessed with by God opened my eyes in a way where I knew I had to at least share the lessons I was able to go through and come out of in one piece. When I would come back and go to Hampton University with Deloitte, the staff there and students, would constantly say how much this was needed and how my authenticity really helped guide them. So, it felt like the way to do this was to partner with an organization who was passionate about a similar cause. There, the pitching began for the idea. Peninsula Former Athletes loved the vision and then we put the logistics in motion. Paula D. Boyd State Farm Agency (my lovely mother) sponsored the jerseys for the and , I recruited the men’s team while I leaned on them to recruit most of the women’s team. It was important to show the women because they get overlooked more than the men and as a proud father of a daughter, I wanted her to see that community efforts help everyone, especially in a sport like basketball. I always say women games are more fun to watch because they know the game by default and there is less reliance on athleticism. And those girls can hoop. I’m proud of what we were able to accomplish this past month.

Overall, this was and will continue to be a community effort. And I would like to thank everyone who made this a reality. It has been a true communal achievement and I could not be prouder. The language we universally speak is music and sports. I chose to use basketball as a medium to raise awareness but also provide resources and guidance to those who may want it. Ultimately, the ability to see someone like you doing something great is usually enough. That is the why, for VA HBCU. Helping students from Virginia Peninsula Community College, like me, with opportunities they may not have had access to in the areas of entrepreneurship, tech, and sports.

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