After a promise by a Detroit businessman wasn't kept, local people came to the rescue with two goals: raising at least $100,000 and restoring faith. Among them: Seahawk Bobby Wagner and private equity managers from Woodinville.
Aristotle Marr had nearly lost faith in the fidelity of promises after a scholarship pledge proved fickle. It took the collective action of overworked community members, private equity managers and professional athletes to restore it.
Three years ago, the now 21-year-old shared a stage with nine other dapperly attired black high-school seniors inside the auditorium of Seattle’s South Shore K-8 school. Each was to be awarded a $10,000 college scholarship to pursue his college dream.
The money, $100,000 in all, promised by Detroit businessman Sid E. Taylor and his Real Life 101 Scholarship nonprofit, was a financial boon to the working-class teens and their families for tuition and school supplies at a time when every penny counted.
The promise came and went. But the money never did.
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“I had originally washed my hands of it all,” said Marr, who enrolled at Green River Community College shortly after only to see months pass without receiving a dollar from Real Life 101.
The same was true for his cohorts, forcing some to pick more affordable colleges, or unenroll in school and take part-time work to save up for next semester’s tuition.
With limited communication from the nonprofit, other than that the organization was working on securing funds, it became increasingly obvious to Marr and his mother, Tia Isabell, that they needed to find other options.
“It was just like, we’re done with [Real Life]. We can’t rely on what was promised us,” Isabell said.
Real Life had enjoyed a reputation for doing good. It occasionally hosted banquets for scholarship awardees. There were claims of providing more than 500 scholarships.
But Anthony Shoecraft, who served as a community liaison between local families and Real Life after he helped organize a black youth-empowerment event at South Shore that led to the offer, became aware something was awry.
According to Taylor, the scholarships depended on his organization’s ability to raise funds. The families said they had been made to believe the funds already had been raised.
Springing into action, Shoecraft, community organizer Earl Parker Jr., and health-care professional Chinua Lambie joined with about a dozen other South Seattle community members last fall to form what would eventually become the MoHundred Scholarship Fund.
Named after a community event that saw hundreds of black professionals greet elementary students with high-fives on their way to class, the makeshift task force set a goal of collecting $100,000 for the 10 students disappointed by Real Life.
“Unfortunately it was a black organization that had let these kids down. We wanted to show that that was an aberration,” Shoecraft said. “What’s normal is the black community rallying together.”
After months of brainstorming, MoHundred planned to kick off a fundraising drive in September of last year, including an online campaign, in-person appeals, charity events and a short documentary detailing the individual stories of the 10 students.
They hoped the effort would be enough to reach their self-imposed deadline of Jan. 31.
The Seattle Times ran a news story. An editorial four days later implored readers to donate.
Shoecraft and Lambie soon were bombarded by emails and calls. Bobby Wagner, of the Seahawks, wanted to make a donation. And private equity managers from as far as Woodinville who wanted to show “unity across all communities in the Greater Seattle area” joined in the cause.
“As much as this is about the black community coming together to make these kids whole, it’s also about allies from across the racial spectrum who wanted to support them,” Lambie said.
One of those allies was TJ McGill, a managing partner at Evergreen Pacific Partners, a Bellevue-based private equity firm.
“It took guts to go out on a public limb and pledge to raise these funds for the kids and their families; I found [MoHundred] inspiring,” McGill said.
Three weeks later all funds were secured. Real Life 101 is no longer listed as an active nonprofit in Michigan.
For Marr and his family, the delayed money is right on time. He’ll start at Eastern Washington this spring, with plans to major in business marketing.
“Patience is a big thing. God’s timing is always right. When you actually need something the timing is always perfect,” he said.
Speaking to MoHundred’s goal being reached, Lambie and Shoecraft had a simple response: