The nation’s largest public service employees union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), has announced a new partnership to support talented Black students at the nation’s historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The union is collaborating with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which represents the nation’s publically supported Black colleges. The announcement was made as National HBCU Week kicks off.
AFSCME launched its Union Scholars Program in 2003 and, since its inception, students from more than 40 institutions of higher learning have participated. Students must be a second-semester sophomore or junior with a minimum 2.5 grade point average majoring in American Studies, Ethnic Studies, History, Labor Studies, Political Science, Psychology, Public Policy, Social Work, Sociology, Women's Studies and other fields of study. The AFSCME Union Scholars Program provides students with an internship and the opportunity to earn money for college. They work on the frontlines of organizing campaigns, helping workers gain a voice on the job and better their lives for themselves and their families.
"Our commitment to students of color at historically black and other colleges and universities is unwavering," said AFSCME President Lee Saunders. "AFSCME's partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund enables us to continue a tradition of developing young leaders who are dedicated and passionate about making a difference in our society."
AFSCME has a long history of activism and a historic connection with civil rights. On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, where he'd gone to support the 1,300 black sanitation workers of AFSCME Local 1733 in their strike for better pay, union recognition and respect. Today, AFSCME represents 1.6 million members, including home care and child care workers, nurses, clerical workers and sanitation workers and countless others who work for cities, counties, states, the federal government and universities, non-profit agencies and private companies.
"HBCUs have a history of educating minorities, which contributes to the diversity of today's workforce," said TMCF President & CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. "The increased cost of college, along with stricter grant and loan payments, make gifts like this more important, and demonstrates AFSCME's commitment to improve education and build a pipeline for tomorrow's workforce."
Named for Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the U.S. Supreme Court, TMCF is the only national organization providing scholarships and programmatic and capacity-building support to the 47 publicly supported HBCUs, medical schools and law schools. TMCF supports and represents nearly 300,000 students from its member schools, and has awarded more than $200 million in financial assistance.
The partnership comes as many publicly Black colleges and some private institutions as well, face budgetary constraints and continue to meet resistance for equitable funding from hostile state legislatures. Over the past year several HBCUs have either announced their closure or are in the midst of a fierce battle to keep their doors open. The most notable of these cases being that of Morris Brown College, an institution that was teetering for well over a decade and was forced to shut down. There is now a dispute over the sale of the historic Atlanta campus.
Despite many challenges HBCUs continue to graduate close to 21 percent of all Blacks holding baccalaureate degrees and many of these institutions have expanded their academic offerings at the graduate level, in online courses and have enhanced their campuses. Several, including Morgan State University and North Carolina A & T State University are playing a leadership role in training Black students for careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) fields, projected to be one of the strongest growth areas in the nation’s economy for the future.