More than 25 years have passed since Kafi Carter Slaughter ’94 split her time between Texas A&M University’s academic buildings and its track and field complex. But to this day, she vividly remembers how she and her tight-knit group of fellow black students felt as they navigated a world very different from the ones they had left.
“About 99% of us grew up in similar economic circumstances,” Slaughter said. “We all agreed that moving from a simple financial lifestyle in the inner city to the wealth we saw in Aggieland was a shock.”
After surmounting the financial hurdles of enrolling at Texas A&M, Slaughter said she wasn’t prepared for the additional challenges required to stay there. An unexpected expense could mean the difference between a degree and dropping out. Today’s black students, she said, face similar trials.
That’s where Texas A&M’s Black Former Student Network (BFSN) has stepped in. By establishing a Foundation Excellence Award (FEA) endowment, the Aggie Impact Endowment, through the Texas A&M Foundation, BFSN members and supporters are harkening back to their own financial struggles as they provide today’s black students with the funds to succeed.
“Today’s students have something in common with us as African Americans on campus,” Slaughter said. “We might not know them individually, but we know where they are coming from.”
Filling the Gap
When Slaughter arrived as a freshman in the fall of 1990, she was one of 1,202 black students among Texas A&M’s main campus enrollment of 41,171 students—a number representing about 2.9% of the total student body. She became fast friends with other black students like Shante Robertson Thompson ’94, Charles “Chuck” Henderson ’94 and, the following year, Erica Davis Rouse ’95.
Growing up in Houston’s impoverished south side, Slaughter attended Texas A&M thanks to an athletic scholarship. But like many other financially strapped students, she quickly learned that a scholarship doesn’t cover all expenses. In her case, traveling to track meets meant she needed to have her textbooks with her—textbooks that she simply couldn’t afford.
Kevin Carreathers, then-Texas A&M director of multicultural services, came to her rescue, awarding her a Presidential Achievement Award (PAA). This funding “filled the gap,” Slaughter said, enabling her to continue her Texas A&M education. Thompson and Rouse cite the same award as critical to their ability to attend Texas A&M.
But in 1996, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling in the Hopwood v. State of Texas case banned state-funded higher education institutions from using race as a consideration in admissions. That ruling soon spread to financial aid, as well, meaning that Texas A&M’s PAA and other university-designated assistance geared specifically for minority students were discontinued.
In response to the Hopwood ruling, the Texas A&M Foundation—a nonprofit charitable organization that operates apart from the university—created the FEA program. FEAs aid students from historically disadvantaged groups who are often underrepresented in the student body, including minorities and those who face significant economic hurdles. FEA endowments can be funded with a $50,000 gift and award students annual stipends for four years.
While the Foundation’s FEAs have helped more than 1,500 students attend Texas A&M thus far, the percentage of black students comprising the main campus’ student body has shown only a slight increase since Slaughter’s time as a student: This fall, some 2,056 black students were enrolled out of a total of 64,300 students, equating to roughly 3.2% of the student body. If the percentage of black students at Texas A&M is to more closely reflect the 12.3% of black individuals who make up the state’s population, more must be done, Slaughter said. The BFSN’s newly created Aggie Impact Endowed FEA is a step in that direction.
From Celebration to Legacy
This summer, Rouse contacted Thompson and Slaughter with the idea of a BFSN reunion event that could both recognize the achievements of black former students and raise funds to help with the financial needs of today’s black students. In a few short months—with particular help from The Association of Former Students—the Aggie Impact Gala became a reality.
The event’s original fundraising goal was $25,000, but Henderson thought the amount was too low. Instead, he pushed for creating an endowment that would perpetually fund scholarships for deserving black Aggies. He and gala co-chairs Rouse, Thompson and Slaughter worked with the Foundation to create an FEA endowment, ultimately pledging $100,000 to be funded over a five-year period.
Meeting that pledge instead took only two months.
From the signing of the Aggie Impact Endowed FEA agreement on Oct. 16 to the end of the Nov. 23 gala, the Aggie Impact Gala had not just met its $100,000 pledge, but had surpassed it.
“Initially, we thought the gala would be a small gathering,” Slaughter explained. “But we had so much positive feedback that we expanded it to a maximum of 300 people.”
The event immediately sold out, with 200 names on a waiting list.
Slaughter said that using the Aggie Impact Gala as a fundraising vehicle to fund the Aggie Impact Endowment gave guests the opportunity to do far more than catch up with old friends: “The gala went from simply being a celebration to actually creating a legacy.”
We’re All Aggies
The life stories of gala organizers and honorees clearly demonstrate that while they may be small in number, the tight-knit community of black former students has gone on to tremendous professional and philanthropic accomplishments. Slaughter, for instance, is managing director of Bank of America-Wealth Management in Houston. Other BFSN gala committee members and honorees are entrepreneurs, authors, corporate and nonprofit organization executives, sports figures, media personalities, high-ranking military officers, medical practitioners and elected officials.
Almost all of them, Slaughter said, received some type of financial assistance to attend—and thrive—at Texas A&M. She hopes the FEAs created by the Aggie Impact Endowment will similarly not only bring more black students to Texas A&M, but will also fill financial gaps faced by those who are already enrolled, enabling them to continue their education.
With that in mind, the BFSN and Aggie Impact Gala has set its sights on raising $1 million for the Aggie Impact Endowment by the year 2025, Slaughter said, which will involve another BFSN Aggie Impact Gala. This year’s 2020 gala will be held on Oct. 24, with sights set on raising $200,000 for the night.
While the Aggie Impact Endowment is specifically focused on helping black Texas A&M students afford their education, Slaughter emphasized that the big-picture idea is rooted in the adage that Aggies help Aggies. “You don’t have to be African American to give to this endowment,” she said, “because at the end of the day, we’re all Aggies.”
To support the Aggie Impact Endowment FEA, you can give online or contact Al Pulliam ’87 at (979) 845-6023 or firstname.lastname@example.org.