By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Thanks in part to the Birmingham Promise initiative, Huffman High School senior Zahria Brewer will be the first person in her family to go to college.
Brewer, who plans to attend the University of Alabama at Huntsville and study psychology, wants to become a pediatric psychiatrist and will not have to worry about tuition after three area corporate entities announced a partnership with the city to commit $3 million to help students.
On Tuesday, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, announced that Alabama Power Foundation, Altec/Styslinger Foundation and Regions Bank will commit $1 million each toward the Birmingham Promise tuition assistance program.
“Every student deserves the opportunity to succeed,” said Woodfin. “I’m very grateful to . . . our business community and academic partners for helping us put people first. The steps we take today are the building blocks for Birmingham’s future workforce.”
The Birmingham Promise Initiative creates post-secondary opportunities and apprenticeships for BCS students and has two tracks: tuition assistance that covers college and apprenticeships; and career experience to prepare students for post-graduation opportunities.
Brewer said the support from city officials, foundations and business community serve as motivation.
“It’s going to help me with tuition assistance and it will also motivate people like me [apply for the Birmingham Promise] and others too because if they see me do it, they will feel like ‘she can do it, so I know I can,’” said Brewer. “Not only that, but I get real world connections and life skills and have the ability to network as an apprentice and get my name out there with people who can help me in the future.”
Students may be encouraged to work harder also, she said.
“I feel like many people around my age, in the past have dropped out of school or felt like we couldn’t do it because of the [lack of money] but with the Birmingham Promise and other scholarships they will be much more motivated,” said Brewer. “To see the class ahead of you and all of your friends do something and accomplish what they want to do, will motivate other students to do the same.”
The money fully funds college scholarships for students of Birmingham City School’s graduating class of 2020 who qualify. Assistance from the initiative can be used to help pay tuition and mandatory fees at any public two-year or four-year college in Alabama.
Woodfin announced that John Turner, president and CEO of Regions; Lee Styslinger, chairman and CEO of Altec Inc and Mark Crosswhite, chairman and CEO of Alabama Power Company, will serve as fundraising co-chairs for Birmingham Promise.
“We no longer want the limitless potential of Birmingham City Schools students to be handcuffed by their circumstances,” said Woodfin. “I think this goes a long way toward the young people who are Birmingham graduates… for any of them who want to attend school, it is an amazing opportunity for young people to be able to participate in one of these state institutions and this $3 million goes a long way.”
Turner said, “New investments are being made in today’s youth- investments that will benefit students, employers and our entire community for years to come . . .Through Birmingham Promise, educators, city leaders and the business community stand united around a tremendous opportunity to help more students succeed.”
Birmingham City Schools Superintendent Dr. Lisa Herring said the system is grateful for the opportunity “called Promise” and the investment into the students.
“We celebrate today, but most importantly we celebrate our scholars,” she said. “We want to thank all of the community for getting involved in this work and investing in and standing behind our children.”
Last month, nearly 100 BCS students were matched with approximately 60 local employers as part of the Birmingham Promise apprenticeship program. Students work 15 hours per week during school hours for 16 weeks and each student will earn $15 per hour and school credit.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham last month became the first academic partner to support the Birmingham Promise scholarship by providing BCS graduates an opportunity to attend the university with a one-to-one tuition scholarship match.
The announcement comes just days before the March 1 deadline for BCS students to apply for the Birmingham Promise. To qualify, students must apply to the Birmingham Promise, complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and be accepted by a public college or university in Alabama by the time they graduate.
For more information visit www.birminghampromise.org.