It’s not unusual to see a light on in Dr. John Hamilton’s home during the early morning hours. Just that morning, he couldn’t sleep and got up to check his inbox.
“I had noticed I had gotten emails at 11 o’clock at night from faculty or staff or students, so I was answering those emails at 1:30, 2 a.m. this morning,” Hamilton said. “I’ve always been like that, checking in, making sure that I’m on top of my game and that my staff is ready to serve students.”
Hamilton, Associate Vice President, University Access & Retention, has not only spent his time, but his own resources, to make sure underrepresented students at Cal State Long Beach receive a quality education without the stress connected to finances.
“We want to take that one thing off their minds and lower their anxiety and give them the freedom to say ‘hey, let me just concentrate on my studies,’” Hamilton said.
Helping students stay in school is the crux behind the Black Alumni Scholarship Fund that Hamilton and the Black Faculty & Staff Community created to provide a financial support system for students who need help. The fund, the first of its kind, will also assist students if, for instance, should they lose a job, their car breaks down or their computer crashes.
Eligible students need to be members of the Black Student Union and the CSULB Black Scholars community.
Additionally, the scholarship would help with books and educational endeavors, such as study abroad opportunities, conferences and summer classes. To date, Hamilton and his staff have raised $65,000 through donations and corporate sponsorships and are looking to boost that total through the inaugural Black Alumni Scholarship gala.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, renowned Vanderbilt University professor, author and commentator, is the keynote speaker for the virtual gala set for April 24. The theme is “Change the Narrative for Success.”
Hamilton said the Black Alumni Scholarship fund already has received gifts from The Matthew and Roberta Jenkins Foundation, President Jane Close Conoley, the CSU Chancellor’s Office and the city of Long Beach. The late Dr. Matthew Jenkins and his wife have generously supported CSULB over the past several years with music scholarships.
“For first-generation, low-income students and some of our students of color, one of the biggest barriers is financial aid,” Hamilton said. “This would help them, so they won’t have to extend school for another year or semester because of financial need. Many times, they don’t have the support they need to finish their goal.”
According to United Negro College Fund, 45% of Black students complete their degrees in six years – lowest among all other races and ethnicities of students enrolled in four-year public institutions. Black men have the lowest completion rate at 40%.
Leslie Loftis, a third-year sociology major, works in the payroll department for the County of Los Angeles, a full-time job that prevents her from attending on-campus activities. A scholarship would alleviate the need to work long hours.
“I am one of those students who likes to learn, engage with the professors, engage with the material but I see that I’m missing out on a lot of those extra opportunities,” Loftis said.
“There are information sessions on grad school, information sessions on communication skills, writing skills and internship opportunities or volunteer opportunities. I don’t have the ability to go to those type of events to network.”
Hamilton said he is surprised there hasn’t been a move earlier to develop a scholarship fund for Black CSULB students. He is hoping the Black Alumni Scholarship program will fuel more donor-sponsored programs for other underrepresented student groups.
Hamilton said the usually when a student approaches him, it’s because they are struggling to finish their final year or semester because of finances.
“They’ve worked so hard to get that far and they can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, “so I don’t want financial aid for that to be a barrier.”
Diamond Hawkins, a third-year criminology, criminal justice and emergency management major who is a part of the Guardian Scholars program for former foster youths, said a scholarship would “alleviate a lot of stress” over worrying about bills.
“Not only do I need help with school and books, but I do have a life and need help with day-to-day living costs,” she said.
Hamilton said education is an opportunity to open doors, which is why he is passionate about helping students. He wants them to have the same opportunities he had when he went to college.
Although he has helped dozens of students, he said one sticks with him. The student was living with his gravely ill grandmother and trying to juggle caring for her, full-time studies in business management and a full-time internship. Hamilton could sense the stress and dug into his resources and wallet.
“When I heard his story, I wanted to help him,” Hamilton said. “He still emails me or sends me a text to tell me how he’s doing and how he’s gone on to do great things. He has a real good career now.
“All I ask of him or any of them when they say they are going to pay me back I say “No, I just want you do to the same for someone as I did for you when you get the opportunity. That’s paying me back.”