Total Pageviews

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

"How Will I Pay for College?" One Douglass Descendant Takes Care of the Little Things First

"The Douglass scholarship, in a way, got me started."

3 years ago, Brenton Leeper found himself a Dobyns-Bennett graduate, facing a big dilemma. He'd been a stellar football player for the D-B Indians, and received a football scholarship to Brevard College, north of Asheville, NC.

But that scholarship only provided room, board and classes. It did not cover any of the little things that a student needs to make the grade.
"At Brevard, it cost $14,000 dollars a semester," he remembers. "The football scholarship provided $11,000 dollars of that, and a Pell Grant, covered $2,000 dollars. The remaining $3,000 did not cover all the books that I needed, and 3 years ago I was looking to major in business. Books were essential, and I just couldn't afford them all."

That summer between D-B and Brevard is where the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni scholarship entered his life.

"That $500 dollars from the Douglass alumni, came right at the time that I needed it," says Leeper. "I had math that first semester, I had English.. I had all the basic first-year studies at that time. I had to buy 3 or 4 books that year, plus others as the semesters wore on.. Man, they were expensive. Books are an arm and a leg."

"That was $500 dollars I could just tell my nana (Mrs. Shelia Leeper) to keep, and not worry about trying to raise it at that time."

Scholarships of $500 dollars are provided to African-American descendants of Douglass Elementary/High School every year. Douglass was Kingsport's all-black high school until it closed in 1966. Since then, thousands of dollars have been awarded to high school descendants of Douglass alumni.

"The hope is that these young people will use the scholarship to, first of all, carry on the legacy of the Douglass school," says Douglass Releford (Douglass '64), president of the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association. "By continuing their higher education, they are a reflection on the education their their ancestors got when they attended the school. The Douglass teachers always encouraged us to pass on what we have learned by attending college, and by helping today's descendants, we think we're fulfilling that goal."

All of the students who have received scholarships from the Douglass alumni, have used the money for its intended purpose.
"We've helped fund the education for descendants who went on to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, accountants, financial managers, authors, teachers," says Releford. "Some went into the military, professional sports.. it's a good cross-section of careers in our goal to help the students get started right out of high school. Money for the scholarships comes from our alumni, and from the annual Douglass Alumni Memorial Golf Tournament that dedicated alumni members Frank Horton, Donald Hickman and John Hardy help us sponsor every year."

Releford says, many African-American students have difficulty coming up with the money for college at high school graduation.

"Studies have shown that the cost of college is almost unaffordable for folks in the black community, and unless students get some kind of academic or athletic scholarship, parents are in the hole real quick. The cost of just books alone can be staggering. Our scholarships are designed to help students who qualify get over the smaller financial humps, so they can concentrate on the bigger costs."

"Every penny helps."

The Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Board, considering scholarship applications at a meeting in the V.O. Dobbins, Sr. Complex

The potential scholarship recipent has to be the descendant of a Douglass alumni and that would be anyone who attended the school. The alumni has to have a current membership in the Sons and Daughters of Douglass Alumni Association. Recipients are required to fill out an questionnaire on where they want to attend college, then write an essay on their ambitions, and how the scholarship will help them achieve that goal. A selection committee from the alumni Board of Directors judges the applications, and the ones that qualify get notified immediately. Releford says, there is always a time deadline between the awarding of the scholarship, and the time the potential college student needs it.

The 2013 Scholarship winners are Devaun Swafford (University of Tennessee); Hunter Muller (Northeast State); Cyndee Morrisette (Maryville College); and Jessica Cherry (University of Kentucky).

Brenton says, applying for a Douglass alumni scholarship was a no-brainer for him and his family..

"Riverview is where I grew up," he says. "Most of the folks in the Riverview community and in the alumni association watched me grow up. They've always been there for me growing up whenever I needed encouragement. It only made sense that I apply for it, because they all knew what kind of person I am. Same for everybody else who applies for the Douglass scholarship."

"It's always been one big family."

Times have changed for Brenton Leeper. He's now at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, an offensive lineman.. the same position he played at Brevard. He also has bigger apirations.

"I'm thinking of changing my major, maybe to communications," he says. "There's a whole lot you can do with a communications degree.. every job out there wants people who know how to talk, how to get a message across and communicate with people. I've also been thinking about a Navy career, too, especially with the travel and exploring different parts of the world."

He credits the Douglass alumni scholarship with keeping his feet planted firmly in the right direction.

"It was a blessing having that to lean on," he says.

"It helped in the small ways most people don't think about."