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HBCU Students Showcase Social Impact Initiatives

For more than 30 years, Echoing Green has been dedicated to discovering emerging social entrepreneurs and investing deeply in the growth of their ideas and leadership. We’ve built a broad, dynamic ecosystem to support these leaders and have worked toward making the ecosystem as inclusive as possible in collaboration with values-aligned partners and supporters.

Last year, Echoing Green launched Solutionist Accelerator, a pilot social entrepreneur training program, in partnership with the Fund II Foundation. This initiative is aimed at building an inclusive entrepreneurship movement focused on unleashing a more diverse set of innovators and founders. Since the launch, more than 1,200 students from five Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have participated in the program. Through this joint initiative, we are building a more diverse talent pipeline for social impact by providing hands-on training and learning opportunities, specific problem-solving frameworks, and pathways to purpose-driven careers for students committed to creating an equitable and sustainable world.

2020 Solutionist Accelerator Student Showcases

Three virtual student-showcase pitch competitions—featuring 11 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students from the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUC), North Carolina A&T State University, and Morgan State University—served as the culminating event series for the year-long programming. The impacts of COVID-19 led us to re-format this originally planned in-person event, and we saw an unfortunate decrease in student attendance, most notably at Morgan State. We are grateful to all our participants, along with all the students who had planned but weren’t able to join us.

The emerging innovators who participated in the showcases represented the top 11 percent of the Solutionist Accelerator’s final tier of programming. Students explored existing and new ideas for positive social change and further shaped their initiatives based on Echoing Green’s social entrepreneurship frameworks. Thanks to the generous support of Spelman College, Morehouse College, Atiba Mbiwan, Wilson Lester, and Morgan State’s Entrepreneurial Development & Assistance Center (EDAC), we were able to give more than $12,000 to the emerging innovators. Judges based their evaluations off of Echoing Green’s Fellowship selection criteria.

This year’s AUC student showcase winners included:
  • First Place – $2,500: DeMauge Williams (Charlotte, NC), junior at Morehouse College, who is working to establish a safe haven for at-risk youth where they can learn new art mediums and work with licensed art therapists.
  • Second Place – $2,000: Adrianna Seeney (Durham, NC), MBA student at Clark Atlanta University, who is expanding equitable access to educational excellence for queer students of color by advocating for LGBTQ inclusive policies and practices to improve the institutional climate of college campuses.
  • Third Place – Three $500 prizes: Mark Riley (New York, NY), graduating senior at Morehouse College, Joi Stewart (New York, NY), graduating senior at Spelman College, and Gia Tejeda (Atlanta, GA), all are working at the intersection of education and healing for youth of color.
This year’s North Carolina A&T State University showcase winners included:
  • First Place – $2,500: Theresa Davis (Brooklyn, NY), freshman at North Carolina A&T State University, who is working to educate educators on the impacts of the miseducation of African American history and how it contributes to the disturbance of educational excellence and development of students of color.
  • Second Place – $1,500: Abby Gayle Powell (Raleigh, NC), freshman at North Carolina A&T State University, who is working to decrease suicide rates in North Carolina schools by teaching suicide awareness through collaborative care and group empathy.
  • Third Place – $500: Jhaleesa Phelps (Atlanta, GA), sophomore at North Carolina A&T State University, who is working to increase the accessibility of art education in communities whose schools have been disproportionately affected by decreased funding for arts programs.
  • Fourth and Fifth Place – Two $250 Prizes: Spencer Heath (Queens, NY), senior, and Jhalani Odujole (Lithonia, GA), Ph.D. candidate, are both working to increase mentorship for young Black men.
This year’s Morgan State University showcase winner included:

First Place – $1,000: Samone Scriber (Baltimore, MD), sophomore at Morgan State University, is working to introduce the ideas and practices that are necessary to have financial freedom and self confidence in underprivileged communities by creating workshops and summits with trained, well-skilled business owners and professionals.

Samone Scriber

Samone Scriber, sophomore at Morgan State University

The participating students expressed appreciation in Solutionist Accelerator and its social entrepreneurship programming.

“This program is invaluable to HBCU students and is innovative in itself with providing us the opportunity to interact with students and professors from other campuses,” Seeney said. “I also think this program allowed us to develop the holistic view necessary for social innovation.”

The AUC showcase judges included Brennan DuBose, portfolio manager at Echoing Green; Atiba Mbiwan, interim executive director at the Zeist Foundation; and Dr. Nicole Taylor, associate professor at Spelman College. The North Carolina A&T State showcase judges included Robert China, senior vice president at Fortress Investment Group, Echoing Green board member, and North Carolina A&T alumnus; Rachel D. Latimore, portfolio manager at Echoing Green; and Wilson Lester, executive director at Piedmont Business Capital. Judges for the Morgan State showcase included LaShauna Jones, founder of Sporty Dog and president at Morgan State Entrepreneurship Alumni Chapter at Morgan State University Alumni Association (MSUAA); Brittany Young, founder of B-360 and 2018 Echoing Green Fellow; Omar Muhammad, director of Morgan State Univeristy’s Entrepreneurial Development and Assistance Center (EDAC); and Cheryl L. Dorsey, president of Echoing Green.

Perspectives from the Field

Following the showcases, students heard from HBCU alumni and leaders in the social impact and philanthropic spaces. Derick Pearson, co-founder of Code Fever and Black Tech Week, 2017 Echoing Green Fellow, and Morehouse College alumnus, discussed his work during a fireside chat with Tiffany Thompson, Solutionist Accelerator consultant at Echoing Green. Pearson shared how his experience at Morehouse affected his entrepreneurial trajectory and why he chose to attend Morehouse for its commitment to justice and service. He encouraged the students to retain and leverage the communities and collective power they built at their HBCUs.

Dorsey hosted a fireside chat with Alma Roberts, interim director of community health for Kaiser Permanente and Morgan State University alumna, after the North Carolina A&T showcase. Roberts encouraged the students to build values-aligned partnerships that will fuel their success and to continue to keep the communities they are serving at the center of decision-making.

Building an Inclusive Entrepreneurship Movement

Solutionist Accelerator’s focus on developing students’ leadership and understanding of social innovation, sparking their ideas for change, and fueling their commitment to impact, speaks to Echoing Green’s long-standing work of equipping emerging leaders with the supportive ecosystem they need to build an equitable and sustainable world.

“After 30 years of supporting leaders around the globe, Echoing Green knows that the people closest to the problem are often closest to the solution,” Dorsey said. “That’s why we are committed to supporting these impressive young leaders in realizing their visions for change. We are inspired by their passion for tackling problems in a fundamentally new way and by their ability to mobilize others to support their cause.”

We are immensely grateful to the Fund II Foundation’s support of this pilot program, which allowed Echoing Green to further its efforts to build an inclusive entrepreneurship movement focused on unleashing a more diverse set of innovators and founders to drive high-impact organizations and businesses.

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