A Virginia church celebrated Black History Month this year by making a big difference in the lives of 34 local college students. Alfred Street Baptist Church, a historic black congregation in Alexandria, recently contributed $100,000 to erase debts that would have prevented Howard University seniors from graduating.
Alfred Street asked its members to fast from “frivolous spending” during January, according to assistant minister Marc Lavarin. This included abstaining from alcohol, sweets, social media and unnecessary purchases. At month’s end, the congregation was asked to donate the resulting savings to help the community—without knowing specifics about the recipients.
“We had an overwhelming response from our congregation,” Lavarin says. Of the $150,000 raised, $100,000 went to Howard seniors with good academic records and financial need who owed money before they could receive a diploma. Another $50,000 went to Bennett College in North Carolina, a historically black women’s school that was in danger of losing its accreditation.
Alfred Street Baptist Church Supports HBCUs
Historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) are important to Alfred Street Baptist Church, which hosts a large HBCU College Festival every year. About 60 percent of the church’s 8,000 active members graduated from an HBCU, many of which were founded by religious groups.
“We believe that it’s the role of the church, especially those historically black congregations, to continue to support our historically black colleges and universities,” says Lavarin, “especially considering we have played such a role in their conception and founding.”
The idea of easing students’ debts came to Lavarin in prayer. “I thought, ‘What better way to celebrate Black History Month than investing in the young, black heroes of HBCUs?’” As a 2018 divinity school graduate who still has student loans, Lavarin says that debt, not academic ability, is what often holds back black collegians.
Grateful Students Can Pay It Forward
The Howard seniors who benefited from Alfred Street’s generosity were summoned to the school’s financial aid office, where pastors surprised them with the good news and filmed their reactions for the congregation.
Students say they’re overwhelmed to have their financial burdens eased. “I was excited. I wanted to cry,” says Mya Thompson, a 25-year-old Howard senior and mother of one who works night shifts at a local 911 call center. “The fact that I don’t have to worry about [the outstanding balance] is definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders,” she says.
ASBC donates $100K to help 34 HOWARD UNIVERSITY graduating seniors remove financial holds taking accounts to a $0 balance to ensure they graduate in May 2019. We are beyond amazed at the blessings when you say yes to God.
.#ASBCSeek19 #ASBCHiddenHalos @PastorHJW @howard1867 pic.twitter.com/ERISm573HD
— Alfred Street BC (@AlfredStreetBC) February 4, 2019
Although Thompson still will have about $50,000 in student loans, she’s now ensured of earning a diploma, which increases her job prospects. “I’m prayerful,” she says, “praying that God has my back on this too, and that we’ll get through it together.”
Alfred Street’s investment in students reminds them “never to give up hope,” Lavarin says. And he believes they’ll pay it forward—through their achievements and also by supporting others down the road.
Howard President Wayne Frederick says of Alfred Street, “Their generosity is a reminder of how one person’s selfless act of kindness can be multiplied and have a profound impact on the lives of others.”