Turning Tension into Transformation

The Birth of MGAM Scholarship Fund for Young Black Women

Interview By Whitney Larson

In a world where moments of crisis often call for acts of courage and compassion, one lawyer's encounter with the palpable tension in the streets of Chicago post-George Floyd's murder, sparked a journey toward impactful change. A simple, yet profound idea: a scholarship fund aimed at supporting young Black women's education. Ripple of Change’s Whitney Larson chatted with Mel Green, founder of MGAM Scholarship Foundation, to hear more. 

WL: Tell us about your foundation (MGAM Scholarship Foundation). When did that start and how does that intersect with your work as a lawyer?

MG: There is no intersection truly, between my nonprofit and my law firm. The nonprofit came as a response to George Floyd. One day in early 2020, I was sitting outside of my apartment in Streeterville (Chicago, IL) and all of a sudden I heard footsteps on the street. I walk to the corner, glass of wine in hand, and I’m in a sea of riot gear. The Chicago Police are moving down the street in riot gear on their way to Michigan Avenue. I'm just standing there watching hundreds of cops and I’m practically in tears. What is this world that I'm living in? I don't understand how we're here. That moment made me feel very low.  All I wanted was my big sister. And you know, I wanted a hug. 

The next day, my colleauge and I met outside in the park, social distanced, and we talked for hours. I talked to them about feeling very dejected and heartbroken about the way that our country was feeling in that moment I felt like I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing. But I knew that I couldn’t just sit in my anger, sorrow, despair. I had to do something positive in that moment. I'm not usually a letter writer, I'm not often someone who walks in protests. I'm not doing any of those things. Those aren't mine. But I have always wanted a scholarship program in my parents’ names. 

Both of my parents were college professors and I feel very passionately about education. That was where the idea was born: to help to young, Black women, every year, with a scholarship that can help with expenses during college like dorm supplies, books and a dining hall pass. I needed to use my money to do something positive because the more educated our country is, the better we all are. The scholarship is $1,750 and two are awarded each year.

WL: You've helped two women a year since 2021?

MG: 2021 was the first year. This year, our first two recipients are starting their fourth year in college. 

We are currently in the middle of our application process for 2024. It's very exciting that we're about to start our fourth year of applications.

I'm still in love with being the executive director of this organization.  My eventual dream is that this will be endowed. When I'm gone (which will hopefully be many, many years from now) I want it to live beyond me. 

WL: Where can people learn more? 

MG: My website is https://mgamfoundation.org - you'll see the board members, the recipients, our newsletter, everything that we've done and are looking forward to doing.

One of the things we wanted to do for Giving Tuesday, was get more recurring donors. One of my best friends gives a monthly donation of $10, and that money is very helpful to the organization because we know we can count on getting it every year. You can give us the $5 you spend daily at Starbucks! That $5 goes to helping these young women who want to further their education, and be positive members of society. 

WL: Who can apply to your scholarship fund? 

MG: We are focused on young Black women of African Descent nationwide. A parent has to be Afro Latino or African American. There's still an educational and wage gap for women. Black women fall behind our white counterparts, so I wanted to focus on young Black women who are graduating from high school. Cis and trans women can apply to the scholarship. You have to have a 3.5 GPA and provide a resume, no more than two pages. Applicants are required to have a signed letter of recommendation from someone at their school. 

WL: How many applications do you typically get?

MG: So far there are around 300 submitted for our upcoming fund. 

Last year, 800 people started an application, but only around 250 submitted.  Any applications that didn’t meet the requirements were weeded out and we ended up with a little over 100 applications. Each board member reviewed every application. This is very important to us that we take the time to do that while we’re able to. It really makes us feel connected to the applicants during this process. 

WL: I love what you said about $5 making a difference. We use that number a lot to say “here are actions that you can take that might take five minutes, cost $5 or last five days”. Is there anything that comes to mind  (Small, medium or large) that we can do to help raise awareness or contribute to the work you're doing with this scholarship?

MG: Yeah, I think my biggest ask is the sharing of information. I always say to the board members, “your job is to repost our posts on your own socials. Make sure your friends and family all that know about it. Your job is to speak about the organization in spaces where I'm not there.  And, we each need to find one person that's going to be a recurring donor. That's a great start.”

One raindrop creates a flood at some point.  

If you have one person that you can share us with and let them know you think we’re doing really great things. Follow us on our socials. And then check out the website and if you're moved to give an annual donation or quarterly donation - $5 is great. We want anything and everything that will help these young women. 

WL: Are you able to share a story of anybody that really stood out to you in the application process?

MG: I can't necessarily get specific, but what we noticed in year one and two was a plethora of the same kind of stories. A question they have to answer is “How do you celebrate the beauty of Black women?” And a lot of the stories showed that these young women felt super self-conscious about their hair.  And that once they started feeling confident with their hair, they were able to stand in these rooms and do these different things. After the second year of receiving the same stories, I hired a social media manager and told her I want our messaging at least once a week to talk about hair confidence. In year three, we saw it again. And we had even more applicants. Over and over, about how these young Black women do not feel confident in their appearance, and a lot of it revolves around their hair. 

It took me many, many years to embrace my natural curls. I look around on the streets now, and I see the locs, the curls, the braids, everything and I think ‘this is beautiful’.I want young women to start to embrace that. But that's kind of a story that tugs at us a lot. We continue to see story after story of Black women celebrating themselves through their hair. 

WL: How can we get our audience to help you? 

MG: We're getting ready to start our first annual fundraiser, Dollars for Dares, which will be March 18 through the 22nd. 

The organization was formed in October of 2020, so last October we did our first “Give 20 for 20”. The idea was getting a certain number of donors to give $20 each so we could fully fund one scholarship. Every year, we've raised the fund by $250, which was the goal. This year (year four), we’re at $1,750. Next year we will raise it to $2,000. I'd love to get to a $2,500 scholarship fund. 

For our theme “Dollars for Dares” all of the board members have to come up with certain dares and each will have a different dollar value ranging from $50 - $500. One of my dares is to spend half a day on a farm, milking cows or giving pigs slop, or whatever it is they need. That one is going to have a higher value! That one will not be $50. You're gonna have to fund the whole scholarship if you want to see me on a farm! 



Donate here: https://mgamfoundation.org/donate-to-mgam-scholarship-foundation/ 


Follow us on instagram to see what our board members dares are!  

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