Building a Pipeline of Support

Nov. 18, 2021

Like so many significant events this year, the Black Leadership Network (BLN) End of the Year Celebration was held virtually. On May 6, scholars and alumni, mentors and mentees, program partners and even the founding donors, gathered around their screens for the last meeting of the 2020-21 academic year.

The Black Leadership Network is a partnership-based group that focuses on engaging the community and enhancing the educational and leadership opportunities for Black/African American scholars at USF.

Founded in December 2016, BLN has gained exceptional momentum thanks to support from Helios Education Foundation, private donors and a Forever 55 Legacy Grant. With nearly $2.3 million raised for scholarship
and programming support, BLN has already benefitted 74 scholars through the program’s 25 operating and five endowed scholarships.

Beyond marking the end of the year, the meeting was a culmination of months of hard work. For the first time, the framework for BLN’s three-tiered mentoring program was in place, establishing a robust pipeline of support and opportunity for Black students in Tampa Bay.

“The goal is to provide an opportunity for scholars to rotate through these systems and build their network,” explains program director Walter Jennings. “By mentoring others, they are paying it forward even as they receive it. By the time our scholars reach their senior year, they have connections and relationships in the community that will position them for post-collegiate success.”

It starts with the ‘Peer Partner Scholars Program.’ BLN scholars are paired with local high school students in order to create a trusted peer connection students can use to navigate the collegiate world.

“Sometimes we see others doing big things, like going to a university, and assume they’ve always been on that path,” said BLN scholar Jaqueria Lacy, who mentored a student from Blake High School. “By sharing my personal experiences and insight, I was able to be very transparent with my mentee about how I got here and the next steps she needs to take to stay on course.”

The second tier, the Helios/BLN ‘Academic to Alumni’ Mentor Program, connects scholars with USF alumni in
the community willing to provide mentorship, impart wisdom and give guidance to the next generation of Black professionals.

The final tier in the mentoring pipeline is the ‘Company Classroom.’ This program unites scholars and career professionals to prepare students for post-collegiate employment opportunities.

“It is definitely touching to connect with somebody like that who helps you grow so much, in a short amount of time,” said Shaheim Ricketts, a graduating scholar from in the original 2018 BLN cohort. “It was a great experience. My mentor even offered to refer me for a position in his field after graduation.”

After months of working together, the final meeting was bittersweet for the tight-knit group.

“Continue to shine your light,” implored USF alumna and BLN founding member Ashley Butler ’12. “It’s not over when you graduate, we are still here for you. Please, stay in contact and reach out and use us as tools as you journey through life.

36,184

Total Donors in FY21

110,331,089

FY 2020-21 Total Commitment

8,434,843

Scholarship $ Raised FY21