Jessica Brown’s the College Gurl Foundation’s tour bus, which is used for the non-profit’s college tour. (Courtesy Photo)
By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. and Digital Editor
Jessica Brown, also known as the College Gurl, has spent the last six years working to empower students for post secondary education. In less than a decade the College Gurl launched her business, released her first book, “How to Pay for College When You’re Broke”, began the College Gurl Foundation to help students year-round prepare for college, and went on to release a children’s book during the pandemic, “College Girl’s First College Tour.” Though she might not get very much sleep, Brown’s mission is evident- through her work she hopes to empower young people.
“I want these kids to know they are loved, they are special and their dreams are valid,” Brown said in an exclusive interview with the AFRO.
It wasn’t until Brown, a New Jersey native, graduated from Howard University and went into the real world that she was fully able to grasp and understand how fortunate she had been to go on college tours and always consider post-secondary education as an option.
“I’m from New Jersey, where opportunities are different. In my community most people went to college and people were very successful. And me living in D.C. after graduating from Howard, and me having different friends, going to Howard, from different economic levels and saw that’s just not everyone’s reality. Everybody doesn’t just go on college tours. Everybody doesn’t just have the money to go to college or have their parents help them, so that’s how I started College Gurl,” Brown explained. “And after a while, I was like I can’t keep teaching people how to pay for college, without showing students and exposing them to college, so that’s how I founded the foundation.”
Even with her newest children’s book, “College Girl’s First College Tour,” Brown hopes to inspire young people and “to expose students to college, elementary school students, to get them to think about their future and understand their future is bright.”
When Brown spoke to the AFRO she was gearing up for the College Gurl’s Foundation annual college tour on Oct. 24-31. The tour includes a road trip to universities, stays at four-star hotels, fine dining and visits from millionaires and influencers such as well-known pastor Dr. Jamal Bryant- a special surprise for the students (Shhh, don’t tell). Such planning comes with a lot of hours, a lot of finances and a great deal of fortitude.
“Doing a college tour is easier said than done,” Brown said. “The college tour is more than just a college tour.”
The students will get to attend North Carolina A&T’s homecoming game, go to fancy dinners, meet the donors who “invested thousands of dollars” into them and more.
“We are these students’ life lines,” Brown explained of the college tour. “They are able to see and grab what their future can be.”
The young, Black entrepreneur, who began College Gurl at 25, finds it important that she is hands-on with her mentorship and solicits other Black millennials to help with mentorship and the college tour to show the students that they are not far removed from what they are going through and that achievement is attainable as a person of color.
Even beyond the college tour, the Foundation works year-round to help prepare students for post-secondary education.
“The College Gurl Foundation does monthly education programs to help students during their college journey, admissions process, understanding financial literacy, we do different kinds of financial programs, college readiness, savings and investments, entrepreneurial workshops, volunteer work, of course we do cultural events and experiences to expose students to college. Every month College Gurl Foundation always has some form of educational programming,” Brown explained.
In addition to kicking off the year with the college tour, the Foundation ends each programming year with an annual luncheon. “All the students who are part of College Gurl Foundation, and who are graduating seniors, and graduating, automatically gets a scholarship from our foundation based off of the funds that we’ve raised,” Brown explained.
Brown said she is currently working to raise funds for mental health programming as well, particularly to help students who are anxious about the newness and stress associated with the college transition and experience.
Many of the opportunities Brown provides is through grants, fundraising and the generosity of donors. One new donor is D.M.V. rapper Shy Glizzy and the Glizzy Gang, who donated $10,000 to College Gurl Foundation.
On a whim, having gotten used to never hearing from grant applications again, Brown decided to apply for the $10,000 award for her non-profit organization. Days later she learned that she was one of six finalists for the award money and had to do an Instagram live with Glizzy to pitch why she should receive the money. Eventually, it came down to College Gurl Foundation and a man interested in growing his welding business, but ultimately her foundation won.
“Glizzy gang all day. Thank y’all for being so awesome and believing in me and Black youth, and I can’t wait to work with y’all. And because you all are doing this, you make them feel that their dreams are valid and the way they feel is valid and that they can accomplish anything,” Brown said when she learned her Foundation won the cash prize.
Despite the hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, with Glizzy’s support, as well as other generous donors such as, Pastor Bryant, Fab Finance founder Tonya Rapley, the D.M.V.’s D.J. Quicksilva, Lawrence Taylor Foundation, the National Coalition of 100 Black Women (NCBW) D.C., and Brown’s tireless work, the College Gurl Foundation college tour and programming will occur this year. However, Brown said people can continue to support College Gurl and the College Gurl Foundation’s efforts by visiting: www.collegegurlfoundation.org/donate.html/.
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