Through the speeches, applause and camera flashes from proud parents, everyone packed inside the northeast Charlotte church seemed aware of one fact: Many didnt expect the nearly 100 scholarship winners to make it this far.
The winners, almost entirely minorities, all grew up in affordable homes subsidized by the Charlotte Housing Authority. At best, the students had to overcome the hurdles associated with poverty. Many had to contend with more.
What an impressive thing these kids have done today, said Onica Baker, the master of ceremonies and herself an alumna of the scholarship fund. The stats say you shouldnt be here, that you wouldnt be sitting here today.
The nearly 30-year-old CHA Scholarship Fund doled out more than $100,000 in scholarships Sunday to recent graduates or students currently in college.
The fund was started in 1983 by John Crawford, a youth services employee for CHA at the time. The scholarships are intended to give kids who live in the citys low income housing something to strive for. If their goals extend to college, the scholarships also provide a financial boost.
Education is the great equalizer, Crawford told the hundreds of family members and supporters gathered in the purple and white sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church on Sugar Creek Road. It levels the playing field. Believe in yourself. If you put in the effort, this is your chance for a better life.
Since it was founded in 1983, the organization has picked up corporate sponsors, including the Foundation For the Carolinas and the Bank of America Foundation. It has provided $2.5 million in aid to more than 500 students from low-income environments. Crawford estimated the average income of the scholarship winners families was about $15,000.
Next year, the organization hopes to give money to more than 100 students.
Speaking last, Crawford, towering over the crowd in a dark suit and red tie, congratulated the young adults, but also admonished them not to become complacent.
Youre not finished yet, he said. Youve got to get that job, or get that additional education, but you are on the right track. The one thing I ask of you, is when you get your degree and you get your job and youre doing well, help somebody else. Please, help somebody else.