(JACKSON, Miss.) – The Women’s Council for Philanthropy at Jackson State University honored President Emeritus Dr. John A. Peoples and former first lady Mary Peoples recently at an honorary luncheon that raised more than $30,000 to establish an endowed scholarship for JSU students.
“Dr. Peoples made a tremendous impact on Jackson State University. Under his leadership, JSU experienced exponential growth academically and physically. His contributions significantly helped make our university what it is today,” said Thomas Hudson, J.D., acting president of JSU.
In 1967, Peoples was the first JSU alum appointed to the presidency at the urban institution. There have been three Jackson State University alums to serve in the role in the school’s history.
“He and his wife, also a former educator, were dedicated to their students and readily supported them. They have always exercised that same spirit in their community, so it is a privilege to acknowledge them today,” Hudson said.
Debra McGee, who chairs the JSU Development Foundation, expressed similar sentiments.
“Dr. and Mrs. Peoples have been an icon for Mississippi for many years. He is one who sets an example for others to follow and is a role model for many. We love Dr. and Mrs. Peoples, and we appreciate their support of Jackson State University,” said McGee, who is also the senior vice president of BankPlus.
Peoples received a mathematics degree from JSU in 1951. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics education and a doctorate in education administration from the University of Chicago. Before his presidency, he served as vice president, assistant to the president and a mathematics professor at JSU. Mary Peoples received her bachelor’s degree from JSU in elementary education and a master’s and specialist’s degree in the teaching of reading. She spent the majority of her life as an educator for school systems in Gary, Indiana, and Hattiesburg and Jackson, Mississippi.
During Peoples’ tenure, Jackson State attained university status and, in 1982, became the first historically black institution in Mississippi to grant doctoral degrees. Peoples and Mary Peoples served as president and first lady of Jackson State until 1984. The couple has two children.
“For me and my wife Mary, this is one of the biggest events of our life. And we thank everyone for what they have done to make this possible,” said Peoples of the recognition luncheon that drew 300 guests.
The $31,000 raised for an endowed scholarship will be matched by Title III, bringing the amount to approximately $62,000.
JSU’s Division of Institutional Advancement partnered with the Women’s Council to honor Dr. and Mrs. Peoples.
Veronica Cohen, vice president for Institutional Advancement and External Affairs, expressed her appreciation for the fundraising efforts of the women’s council. “It is organizations like these that make our work worthwhile.”
Dr. Gwendolyn Prater, who chairs the Women’s Council for Philanthropy, described the organization as a group of accomplished professional female leaders and philanthropists who believe in leadership, scholarship and mentorship. She said the council also believes in financially supporting students and institutions of higher education.
“We strive to add those values to our student ambassadors so that they can experience a meaningful metamorphosis,” Prater said. “Councilwomen believe that through philanthropy education, students learn that they can make a meaningful difference.”
JSU junior Kelsey Duke said the possibility of mentorship is why she applied to be a student ambassador for the council.
“I’ve been able to gain community service experience everywhere. I’ve been able to make friends with my fellow student ambassadors,” said Duke, who is majoring in electrical engineering and minoring in physics. “In my previous experiences with mentorship, they were not as authentic as I wanted them to be, and the women’s council was able to offer me that.”
This is Deija Green’s first year as a student ambassador. Green is from Baton Rouge, Louisiana and a senior biology pre-medicine major at JSU. She called the luncheon beautiful and inspirational.
“I loved all the positivity in the room. It was an awesome experience to be a part of. Also, being a student ambassador has taught me to be a better woman and to be more organized,” Green said. “I serve as the secretary, and it helps me keep up with the events. I help plan events with the e-board. It has helped me become a more well-rounded person.”
Toni Holloway received her degree in psychology from JSU in 2019. She also serves as a student ambassador for the women’s council.
“It inspires me to not only give honor where honor is due but to also set goals and reach them. I’m in awe of their hard work and dedication to raising monies to increase scholarship opportunities for students such as myself,” she said. “I will be forever grateful for my opportunity to sever as a WCPSA. Because of the Women’s Council of Philanthropy, I am aware of the importance of giving back to my university as well as empowering and educating others.”