Thurgood Marshall College Fund: Focus on Career Pathways

In the last year, Manufacturing Renaissance has played a key role in partnering with organizations and building a coalition to raise awareness of the need to grow the manufacturing sector in this country in an equitable and sustainable way. This effort has helped lead to the introduction of HR5124 –The Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act—by Illinois Congresswoman by Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky) which has gained momentum in Washington.

One prominent group that is now connected to this effort is the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), the nation’s largest organization exclusively representing the Black College Community. TMCF member schools include publicly supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Predominantly Black Institutions (PBIs). The organization’s activities include providing scholarships and being a source for top employers seeking top talent for internships and jobs.  The TMCF sees that this bill and growing coalition efforts to support manufacturing align with its mission.  “With the passage of HR 5124, public HBCUs, including Chicago State University, would have additional resources to bolster manufacturing in their communities, while producing talent for the future workforce,” said founder Dr. Joyce Payne.

Focus on Education, Opportunities

Since its inception, the TMCF has raised more than $300 million to support 47 publicly-supported HBCU’s and PBI’s. More than 300,000 students attend the organization’s member schools.

The TMCF was founded by Dr. N. Joyce Payne with the goal of eliminating barriers to education that existed when the organization was founded in 1987 – and still exist today. One key way the organization does that is through scholarships. Today, Dr. Payne heads the N. Joyce Payne Center for Social Justice, which was created by the TMCF to advance social justice for Black Americans.  The TMCF uses the Payne Center as an avenue to identify social topics that faculty members can conduct research on.

The TMCF and Manufacturing Renaissance both focus on building a future for young people, many of whom grew up in underserved communities; encouraging learning (and training opportunities) and getting students ready for the next step, and connecting students to potential employers. The TMCF emphasizes three pillars:  advocacy and policy creation; scholarships and leadership development; and programmatic resources.

“We are always looking for windows of opportunities and alternative pathways to success,” says Harry Williams, who is in his fifth year as president and CEO of the TMCF. “By supporting the work of Manufacturing Renaissance and efforts to keep manufacturing in a strong place, we can help the people and universities we serve. If there is an opportunity for our institutions – and especially our students – to benefit, we want to be aligned with that.”

Prior to coming to the TMCF, Williams served as president of Delaware State University, a leading HBCU. He has also served on the board of the TMCF.

Programs Support Variety of Pathways

Williams adds that “We know that in high school, it’s often preached that you either go to the military or you go to college – those are the two pathways. We know that’s not true.  There are other pathways as well.” Williams says that the TMCF recently created a National Black Talent Bank, a program that houses a database of uniquely talented Black high school seniors while creating an alternative path to college and careers. Students participate in programs that position them for gainful employment opportunities within corporate America while providing access to tailored higher education pathways.

This fall, TMCF will host its annual Leadership Institute, a four-day conference that will prepare carefully selected students served by TMCF to compete in the workforce. This event will include a Recruitment Fair with Fortune 500 companies,  government agencies, and graduate program representatives who will offer jobs, internships, and continuing education opportunities for participants.

Support for Growing Efforts to Boost Manufacturing

The proposed federal legislation on manufacturing addresses a range of issues that impact colleges and students served by HBCU’s and the Fund – including job training, career options, and long-term possibilities for those working in manufacturing to explore ownership opportunities in the sector. The majority of companies surveyed by Manufacturing Renaissance have no ownership succession plans and are owned by older white males. Many of these companies are located in predominantly black communities.

Members of the TMCF include 19 land-grant institutions which, Williams says, “have a long history of community engagement and involvement – a history that ties the manufacturing sector of these institutions.”

Meanwhile, Williams adds that the TMCF’s strong commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is key to what it does. A commitment to DEI is strongly reflected in the proposed legislation and the work of Manufacturing Renaissance and its partners.

Williams emphasizes that the work of the TMCF – like the movement for national legislation that supports the manufacturing sector – is bipartisan. “People from the right, left, and middle need education – our work applies to everybody. We are very intentional about building strong relationships with all sides, and in a respectful way. In the end, we want to continue the legacy of Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Joyce Payne and focus on education inequality. We will continue to focus on elevating challenges that exist – and how we can have a positive impact on our universities and students.”

-Dan Baron