You may know the story of John Crawford and his scholarship fund that's helped send hundreds of the city's poorest teenagers to college.
In 1983, Crawford ran the Charlotte Housing Authority's youth services when a college student who'd grown up in the projects came to him for help. He'd worked all summer, but was shy $300 to start his senior year.
Crawford found him the money. And the Charlotte Housing Authority Scholarship Fund was born.
The fund is forever Crawford's legacy.
But as hundreds of supporters gather this morning at a breakfast to celebrate its 25th anniversary, Crawford wants the spotlight off him and onto Charlotte banker John Richards, a board member for 20 years and chairman for the past eight.
“John Richards is the reason this fund is alive and well, and still making a powerful difference in kids' lives,” Crawford said. “He cares deeply about disadvantaged people.”
Their relationship is simple: “I've whispered things I think we've needed to do and he's gotten them done.”
One is raising a $5 million endowment that each year would send 100 students to college.
Crawford, 70, had wanted to use today's breakfast to announce the goal had been met.
It's close, but not there yet.
Still, he and Richards are hopeful the remaining $750,000 will be raised by year's end.
“If it's not, that's OK, because we'll get there,” Crawford said. “I know we'll get there because John Richards' leadership will get us there.”
Learned from Mozelle
Richards grew up in well-to-do Myers Park, where college was expected and easily accessed. His parents encouraged success, but didn't give him his compassion for the disadvantaged.
That came from Mozelle Lowery, a black woman who looked after the Richards children and their home on Radcliffe Avenue.
“She was a part of the family, and as I got older she exposed me to the disparities in life,” Richards said.
He and Lowery shared a love for baseball, often listening to games together. Once they went to an exhibition of black major league stars at the now-gone Griffith Park in Dilworth. They sat in the “white seats.” It was the first time she'd watched a game from the grandstand.
“She never had bitterness about the contrast in our lives,” he said.
Twenty years ago, he met his other teacher: John Crawford.
Joe Lipe, a friend and colleague, introduced the two. At the time, the fund was struggling for traction. Crawford's friends laughed at his notion of raising $50,000 to send poor kids to college. Donations dribbled in. But after Lipe donated $5,000, the fund took off and Richards became a Crawford disciple.
In 2000, Crawford asked Richards to chair the board. “The fund has an irresistible appeal to it – of helping a young person who needs a chance,” said Richards, managing director of investments at Wachovia Securities.
Through the years, he's donated enough money to name a scholarship. He named his for Mozelle Lowery.
“She connected the dots for me,” he said. “My work for the fund honors Mozelle.”
Bringing back breakfast
As chairman, Richards met with scholarship fund graduates to get a clearer picture of their world.
“Their challenges were huge” he said. “Food, shelter, safety, transportation were real obstacles. There was no assumption they'd go to college.”
To raise money and showcase the fund's work, Richards reinstated the yearly breakfast. He brought in high-profile speakers like Hank Aaron and Dick Vitale.
Over 25 years, the fund has spent $2 million to send more than 400 students to college. About 140 have degrees.
To honor Crawford, Richards put together a book with graduates, supporters and board members writing about what the fund has meant.
Two of the graduates are Monteic Sizer, a Louisiana doctor, and Cianti Stewart-Reid, a Nevada lawyer. Both grew up in Charlotte's public housing – the fund gave them a chance.
Stewart-Reid ended her reflection on a hopeful note:
“As we look forward to the next 25 years, (the fund) will remain a viable and important tool in the education of young, gifted students in public housing,” she wrote. “And we will continue to hope for the day when poverty in America is but a faint memory.”