“First, I cried,” said LeMoyne-Owen College Interim President Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean. “I was overjoyed, in tears. This $40 million gift is nothing short of transformative for the college.”
Johnson-Dean received a call on Tuesday of this week from the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. It sounded like a fantasy and felt like a dream. But the news was real.
“It was absolutely overwhelming,” said Johnson-Dean. “This is great news for the African-American community. It’s great news for South Memphis. And it shows that the Community Foundation believes in LeMoyne Owen College and Memphis.”
During a ZOOM meeting with The New Tri-State Defender, Johnson-Dean was joined by Community Foundation of Greater Memphis President Bob Fockler.
Fockler said the extraordinary time of coping with COVID-19 “amplified everything.”
“Having a sympathetic voice is good, but, clearly, having a sympathetic voice and nodding is not enough,” said Fockler. “We started looking at the need even before the pandemic. This endowment was the work of our board. It is simply the right thing to do, and the right time to do it.”
The endowment, the largest in the school’s 158-year history, also is one of the largest ever given to any HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
Although specific budgeting allocations have yet to be determined by the college’s board of directors, Johnson-Dean said high on the priority list will be funding to expand enrollment.
“This gift puts the school on stable footing,” said Johnson-Dean. “It will help us to make a tremendous step forward to grow the enrollment by helping first-generation college students with scholarships and other needed assistance. The endowment will also help us to recruit talented students as well as talented faculty.”
Johnson-Dean also said the gift will help to strengthen community partnerships with those who are working to address food insecurity, housing challenges and other ills plaguing areas such as the 38126 ZIP code, where LOC is situated.
“LeMoyne-Owen is located in one of the poorest ZIP codes in the nation,” said Johnson-Dean, adding that LOC had produced a disproportionately high number of city leaders and naming several of them.
Fockler said the Community Foundation has given priority to education and issues related to quality, public education.
“For the thousand families who entrust us to manage their giving, education is high on the list,” he said. “We didn’t just start funding projects dealing with education and low-income communities. Our Women’s Foundation, which we started 20 years ago, has been working with zip code 38126, also one of the oldest black communities in this city.”
Johnson-Dean said it was hard to explain the magnitude of the gift and how life-changing it is going to be for the college.
“In 1870, Dr. Francis LeMoyne, an abolitionist and a physician in Philadelphia, gave the American Missionary Association $20,000 to start the school. I consider this $40 million endowment as transformative as that initial $20,000 gift,” she said.
LeMoyne-Owen College has the lowest tuition rate of any of the private colleges in the state of Tennessee. Nearly 90 percent of students qualify for financial aid or currently receive Federal Pell Grants. It was established in 1862 as an elementary school for freedmen and runaway slaves during the Union Army occupation in Memphis during the Civil War.
Today, there are 800-plus students from across the United States, Virgin Islands and African countries.
“Few of us has $40 million,” said Johnson-Dean. “But we have 40, and some of us have $400. Don’t stop giving. Go to www.loc.edu to find out how you can help.”
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