Da’juh Sawyer and Tichaana Allen
BY J.A. JONES, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – After graduating from Gibbs High School just a few years ago, two young Florida A&M University (FAMU) students began to wonder why there were so few students from St. Pete at their university.
“One day after class I was saying to Dontriel that I’d been having this initiative on my heart to do something for kids back home,” shared Da’juh Sawyer. “Having the financial means to go to school, I know how it was for me,” she added. “To get to college, it was hard financially–my mom was a single parent.”
“I was told that scholarships were everywhere…that you could get one for being left-handed,” remarked co-founder Dontriel Fletcher. “But we were thinking specifically about St. Pete kids; we wondered why people from St. Pete weren’t going to college,” he mused, referring to the abundance of students they met at FAMU hailing from Miami and Jacksonville who he said, “came by the hundreds.”
Sawyer feels exposure and recruitment was sorely lacking during their time at Gibbs High School; only two of her teachers and a grandfather who went to FAMU provided her inspiration. Neither Sawyer nor Fletcher remembered FAMU–or any colleges at all–coming to recruit at Gibbs during their year, and Fletcher only remembers one school trip to a college.
“I didn’t even know there were HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) until 12th grade,” Fletcher asserted.
Sawyer, who called herself “driven,” went through Gibbs’ business program, and still remembered only about four students from her class going off to college. But in the traditional program, where 99 percent of the youth were African American, she couldn’t think of any. “A lot of them stayed home.”
Fletcher added, “A lot of people ended up getting pregnant and working two jobs. People don’t aspire to go to college in St. Pete. They just think I graduated from high school, that’s it.” He observed that the ones that go to college usually go to play sports.
On Nov. 29, 2017, Sawyer and Fletcher started The Make It Out Foundation (MIOF) with a mission to serve and enhance the lives of students in the St. Petersburg community by providing financial assistance to those attending FAMU.
The initial goal for their first year was to raise $300, but using various social media outlets (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) the organization was able to raise $1,200 and were able to award seven students with almost $200 each in scholarship money for the 2017-18 school year.
In the organization’s second year, they awarded eight Pinellas County students $500 scholarships, including seven first-year students and one professional law student.
Today, Sawyer and Fletcher are both FAMU grads and are excited about the progress they’ve made. After formally incorporating as a 501c (3) organization a year ago, they are committed to growth and long-term sustainability. In addition to raising funds for scholarships, they are also involved in community outreach and mentorship programs.
MIOF is providing opportunities for incoming freshmen, graduate-level students and transfer students from the St. Pete area who demonstrate academic success and intend on pursuing a post-secondary education at FAMU. They also conduct a College Back-to-School Drive that provides dormitory essentials.
MIOF members believe that giving back to our community provides a virtuous cycle that advances everyone’s success.
On Saturday, Jan. 5 from 11:30-1:30 p.m., MIOF is celebrating their “1 Year Anniversary Event” at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S, St. Pete. Tickets are on sale for $15. All proceeds will assist MIOF to continue its community outreach.
Purchase tickets by clicking here.
Click here to visit their Facebook page.
To reach J.A. Jones, email email@example.com