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WUWM's Teran Powell reports on race and ethnicity in southeastern Wisconsin.

Northwestern Mutual scholarship helps send Milwaukee graduates to Historically Black Colleges

The nine recipients of Northwestern Mutual's 2024 Hometown HBCU Connection Scholarship.
Northwestern Mutual
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Northwestern Mutual
The nine recipients of Northwestern Mutual's 2024 Hometown HBCU Connection Scholarship.

Wisconsin doesn’t have any historically Black colleges or universities. But there are programs here to help students who are interested in attending HBCUs. One of them is Northwestern Mutual’s Hometown HBCU Connection Scholarship.

The program is in its second year, helping nine Milwaukee high school graduates both financially and professionally.

Milwaukee’s college education statistics are grim. According to the local non-profit Milwaukee Succeeds, only 14% of Milwaukee students will earn a two—or four-year college degree.

The State of Higher Education report from Gallup and the Lumina Foundation says the primary barrier to college enrollment is cost and a lack of financial aid. That’s especially true for Black students.

Northwestern Mutual’s Hometown HBCU Connection Scholarship aims to help close that gap.

Grady Crosby, is the vice president of chief sustainability and impact officer at Northwestern Mutual. He is also a proud Howard University alum.
Northwestern Mutual
Grady Crosby is the vice president of chief sustainability and impact officer at Northwestern Mutual. He is also a proud Howard University alum.

Grady Crosby, vice president of chief sustainability and impact officer at Northwestern Mutual says the organization tries to support well-deserved but sometimes underserved people, and the HBCU scholarship is one of the ways it does that.

"This program will not only help those students realize their dreams of being surrounded by Black excellence at an HBCU but also see a path for them to be back here in Milwaukee to pursue their careers, to be able to raise their families right in their hometown that they know and affectionately call home," Crosby says.

In addition to grants of $7,500 in both freshman and sophomore years, students are mentored by Northwestern Mutual leaders and eligible for paid internships and a path to employment after graduation.

Crosby says the real “secret sauce” of the program is more than financial. It also addresses other stressors by making sure students have access to academic and emotional resources along their college journey.

"We’re meeting with the students all the time; we’re meeting them on their campuses. We make sure when they get back to Milwaukee on breaks that we’re convening them in their own cohorts and with cohorts of other students who are in Milwaukee attending HBCUs," Crosby added.

"And in that, we think they are building their own networks of support as well, and we think that continues to foster a very well-grounded, self-assured, resilient student who is not only equipped to face the challenges of college life but is also equipped to be ready to face the challenges of life."

Jada Hughes graduated from Golda Meir high school and will be attending Morgan State University this fall.
Northwestern Mutual
Jada Hughes graduated from Golda Meir high school and will be attending Morgan State University this fall.

Golda Meir high school graduate Jada Hughes is one of the scholarship recipients; she’s heading to Morgan State University in Baltimore this fall.

Hughes describes herself as family oriented. And she says her family is a big reason she chose to attend an HBCU.

"When I was younger, I really loved to learn about Black History. Like, that goes back to the family-oriented thing, like I grew up like just sitting around my grandmother, and we’d just have conversations about Black History," Hughes says. "So, being around Black people that’s like something I always wanted to do. And then, when I first learned about HBCUs, I just knew that I had to go to one."

Hughes says she plans to study psychology and then go to medical school. Seeing members of her family struggle with their mental health influenced her area of study.

And she sees herself returning to Milwaukee.

"I don’t necessarily wanna start my own practice, but I do want to create like different spaces in the community where people are — specifically like the Black community — are able to come and learn about mental health," she says.

Hughes says this scholarship is important because being in Wisconsin surrounded by predominantly white institutions, students may not know HBCUs are an option. But this scholarship helps open that door.

An extended conversation with scholarship recipient Karrington Parrish.

Karrington Parrish graduated from Rufus King high school and will be attending Spelman College in the fall.
Northwestern Mutual
Karrington Parrish graduated from Rufus King high school and will be attending Spelman College in the fall.

Rufus King High School grad Karrington Parrish, another scholarship recipient, agrees.

She’s attending Spelman College in Atlanta in the fall, studying health science and comparative women’s studies. She also hopes to go to medical school in the future.

"I’ve always known that I wanted to go to an HBCU, so it was like a no-brainer really applying to it because both of my parents went to HBCUs, and my older brother as well goes to an HBCU. So, just having the exposure of HBCUs has been really instrumental in my life," says Parrish.

As a future physician, Parrish’s goal is to open her own practice in Milwaukee and have multiple offices throughout the country in low-income areas offering low-cost care.

She’s grateful that this scholarship is helping her toward her goals.

"So, just this scholarship being especially in the Milwaukee area, there’s a lot of kids who don’t know even if they want to go to college, or even if they see themselves doing different things with their future, and this scholarship just allows them to see that there’s more things to just whatever’s going on right now. That you have a future that is so bright and that there are people that are willing to support you throughout the process."

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Teran is WUWM's race & ethnicity reporter.
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