The Black Leadership Network (BLN) has advocated to promote leadership and mentorship for the youth since its creation in 2016, and now with a $10,000 grant it will expand its programs to reach even more students across the Tampa Bay area.
The Forever 55 Legacy Grant is a $2 million fund given to organizations that target local needs such as food insecurity, sustainability, health and childhood education. The initiative, created this year by the NFL and Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee, had 200 applicants, but only 28 organizations were selected, including the BLN.
The Super Bowl did not only set a spotlight in the city of Tampa, but it also allowed it to contribute to community development through the Forever 55 Grant.
Through this grant program, each of the selected organizations were awarded $10,000 prizes.
“[The BLN is] very honored and humbled by that type of distinction. It obviously allows us to expand the programming that we already have in place, but it also gives, we believe, the validity to the quality of work that we have been doing for the past four years,” said Walter Jennings, BLN director and assistant director of diversity initiatives for the USF Foundation.
Jennings said the BLN aims to use the money to expand some of its programs, including the Peer Partner Program, which allows juniors and seniors to pair with freshmen and sophomores across the university to provide support with academics.
“We know that oftentimes [students] may have challenges with going to their teachers, or being comfortable even coming to us, as adults, even though we make ourselves available,” said Jennings. “But they may be more comfortable conferring with someone of their own age and within their peer group.”
The new funding from the Forever 55 Grant will allow the BLN to expand the Peer Partner program from the university to the high school level, reaching younger generations by sending mentors to share information about USF and encourage high school students to attend college.
Middletown High School students were the first to be a part of the expansion in their first meet and greet with BLN scholars Feb. 23. The BLN has also partnered with Blake High School and Riverview High School but plans to expand to more schools across Hillsborough County in the future.
“We have identified administrators that we believe are going to serve as good partners for us for facilitating a program like this … [High schools] have selected two to three students that they believe would benefit from being paired with our scholars,” said Jennings “We are looking forward to expanding the program to include even more schools, but we are very excited about that potential relation with those three schools and getting the program off the ground.”
Educational scholar meetings are also part of the BLN’s monthly activities. In these events, students are able to network and encourage discussion on different topics such as mental health awareness and LGBTQ rights.
The meetings also prepare students to graduate and feel confident in the professional world by offering workshops, education on the importance of having a Ph.D. and providing information on available scholarships and how to apply for them.
“A lot of students are just not aware of the process of applying for college, things like FAFSA, where they can apply for scholarships. Especially after they have already been accepted to USF,” said Jennings. “So, this program is all about making sure these students will have access to the information.”
Even though the grant will not directly fund scholarships, Jennings believes the programs the BLN provides to students offer the right platform and resources to have easier access to information and opportunities than in previous years.
With this award, the BLN plans to keep expanding its community and providing mentorship across the Tampa Bay area.
“We want our students to know that there is a viable path here, that we want you here and at the very least we want to make sure that you are proud of the legacy and what is being built here in the Tampa Bay area,” said Jennings.