In less than a week, what started as five $1,000 scholarships has now grown into 25 $1,000 scholarships for college students of color.
On Monday, May 25, George Floyd, an African American man, was killed when Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, held his knee to Floyd’s neck until he suffocated.
Over the last week and a half, protests have been occurring in every state, according to USA TODAYS Network research. They are protesting systematic racism and promoting social justice.
Matt Miller, a Joplin-based sports journalist for Bleacher Reporter and founder of 417 Foundation, said he wanted to do something impactful after spending the weekend reading about the protests and riots breaking out across the nation.
“I spent the weekend, like a lot of people, glued to Twitter, watching the news and just feeling helpless,” Miller said. “I just felt like tweeting about it or posting on Instagram just wasn’t enough.”
Miller said he made an initial investment of $5,000 for five $1,000 journalism scholarships for students of color on Monday, June 1.
“I work for one of the largest sports media companies in the country and it’s a lot of middle-aged white guys, and so this is an area where I, on the daily, see that there’s a need for minorities in this industry,” Miller said. “Also, more persons of color in journalism can tell the truth, tell their story of what they’re experiencing and not depending on someone else to tell what’s happening.”
On Monday, Miller tweeted about his scholarship plan, and by that night, he had received enough donations for a total of 25 $1,000 scholarships.
According to Miller, there are now a total of 20 journalism scholarships, three business scholarships, one information technology scholarship and one engineering scholarship available to students of color nationwide.
There is a list of scholarship requirements, but Miller said he wants the process to be easy for people to get their foot in the door.
“There’s enough things in this world right now that are exclusive. I don’t want this to be one of those,” Miller said.
The scholarship requirements include:
Applicants must be a student of color
Applicants must be a student pursuing the appropriate degree (journalism, business, IT or engineering)
Applicants must be involved in community service work or hold a part or full-time job
Miller said he is currently using social media to promote the scholarships.
“I think that was one really cool thing to see — an idea took root and spread so fast, to the point that even before we had the website set up for people to apply, people were finding my email and sending in applications.”
Holly Holladay, assistant professor of media, journalism and film at Missouri State, discovered the scholarship herself via Twitter when a former student retweeted Miller’s initial post.
“When I noticed that (the scholarships) were a part of something called the 417 Foundation, I was like, ‘Hold on a second, this might be local.’ And that matters,” Holladay said.
After doing some research, she learned more about the foundation and decided to reply to Miller’s initial post on Twitter, hoping to gain more information about the scholarships for MSU students.
“I replied to Matt’s tweet — a lot of people were applying to it — not knowing if he was going to see what I had said,” Holladay said. “He got back to me instantly.”
On Wednesday, June 3, the MSU media, journalism and film department sent out an email, composed by Holladay, to all MJF students about the scholarship opportunities.
Holladay said recently she’s thought a lot about what she is able to do as a person of privilege, due to her whiteness and position as a faculty member, beyond just posting information on social media.
Making the information about the scholarships known to MSU students is a concrete way to help, Holladay said.
“Supporting students of color matters so much,” she said. “If we want a wide variety of voices heard, if we want a wide variety of stories told, then we have to have people telling those stories. I think reducing those economic barriers is an important way to do that.”
According to Miller’s latest tweet about the scholarships on Tuesday, June 2, a website to easily apply is coming soon.
As for the application process, Miller said he, along with a board of peers, will go through the applications individually, then conduct a round of interviews.
Selected students will receive the $1,000 scholarship for the fall 2020 school year via PayPal or Venmo.
Parties interested in donating to the scholarship fund can make donations to the 417 Foundation on PayPal.
Miller founded the 417 Foundation in 2013 when his mother, the area supervisor for low-income preschools in Joplin, told him about how many young students were coming to school in the cold without winter coats. Learn more about the 417 Foundation here