How the "True Blue 1881 Foundation" assists HBCU students in need
When I think back to my freshman year at Morehouse College in 1990, for all of the excitement that derived from being away from home, meeting new friends from across the world, and enjoying the educational and extra curricular offerings of the Atlanta University Center (Morehouse, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, and the Interdenominational Theological Center), one critical aspect of those school days that I have never written about until now is this: my fellow Men of Morehouse and I were ALWAYS HUNGRY!
When we arrived at Morehouse that August, the Trustees were already in the process of modernizing the campus, which included the renovation of the Chivers and Lane Dining Halls. The College had just contracted with a new food service company because, to let our older Brothers tell the story, the food quality and presentation in prior years was quite deplorable.
During our senior year at Morehouse, Florida Boyz Victor Owens (left), Billy Norris (taking picture), and I road tripped up to Tennessee State University for its Homecoming where our homeboy, Fred Higgs, immediately snuck us and our other homey, Jason Ward (FAMU), into the Cafeteria to fill up before the festivities 😆
Well, such was not the case during my freshman and subsequent years, as one of my best friends, Victor Owens, and I still boast that from the ham, eggs, and waffles, to the fried chicken, veggies, desserts, and occasional ribeye steaks and fried shrimp, all of it comprised some of the best eating of our entire lives.
But as great as the food tasted at Morehouse during our era, there was one major condundrum—the hours of operation were rather minimal. Meaning, if we missed breakfast, lunch, or dinner before the cafeteria closed, we were simply "on short," as we used to say, and starving!
This was particularly problematic on days when we had late classes, labs, or practice for any number of extracurricular activities. Further complicating matters was the fact that while Morehouse surely had its share of wealthy young students, like the late Ennis Cosby (RIP), the overwhelming majority of us hailed from middle and working class families where budgeting meant that dollars were not always available for daily trips to Popeyes, Taco Bell, Steagall's, or the old Sattwewhite's Restaurant. Not to mention that even when discretionary funds were flowing, during that era, the AUC was not very safe from the criminal element in Atlanta’s West End—a factor that, regrettably, led to clashes that occasionally involved gun play—and casualties.
Due to the above-listed realities, there were many nights when the only solution to our hunger was to drink some water, go to bed, and await for the cafeteria to open at 7:00 a.m.
Such memories are why I was ecstatic to read about True Blue 1881, a non-profit founded by a Spelman alumna, Tiombé O’Rourke. The Foundation's tagline, Philanthropy Done Differently, best describes its purpose of feeding HBCU students—and dispensing funds to defray the costs of living and education.
When I spoke to Sister O'Rourke about her philanthropic bent, she laughed when I told her that my crew, the Florida Boyz, used to hang around at symposia ranging from Baroque music to Keynesian economics, all because we knew that at program's end, that there would be ample finger sandwiches, cheese, veggie, and fruit trays that helped to fill our bellies for the evening.
Levity aside, the importance of assisting college students living in veritable food deserts is no laughing matter—as is the need to assist with ancillary expenses like book fees that place graduation in jeopardy for some students each year in the AUC.
Thus, as the spring semester will soon conclude, I find it important to highlight True Blue 1881 in hopes that all loyal Hobbservation Point readers will donate to the cause—more on that later!
But first, allow me to introduce the founder, Tiombé N. O'Rourke:
What (or who) inspired you to take on your initial calling of feeding AUC students?
I heard of a hunger strike happening on Spelman's campus. People were protesting NOT being able to donate swipes to hungry students. Apparently, there was a time you could live on campus without a meal plan. I was completely oblivious that there was an issue with food security among students. I had a few weeks until Thanksgiving and I decided I would feed those who couldn't go home or were simply hungry.
Since 2017 I have been helping students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities around the country. 2017 was the year I discovered many college students were experiencing food insecurity, and I decided to feed the students of the Atlanta University Center the week of Thanksgiving. The idea was to give students who couldn’t afford to go home a chef prepared meal. We also gave gift cards to airlines, gift bags and cash. This was the impetus for me to seek out needs among HBCU students and then bridge the gap.
To date, we have become a nonprofit; fed hundreds of students, given away dozens of scholarships, assisted students through a housing crisis as a result of Covid-19, and paid balances of graduating seniors so they could receive their diplomas. Additionally, we have taken care of needs like gas, groceries, car repairs, health insurance, really anything that would be a stumbling block to graduating.
Nota Bene: Sister O'Rourke co-owns GEAT Cosmetics with her cousin, Alexis Allen, a company that donates a monthly scholarship to an HBCU student and to date, has given well in excess of $100,000 in direct aid to students.
With your Foundation also including financial assistance for students, describe some of the obstacles that you have had to overcome to bring your passion to fruition?
Initially, people were skeptical about what we were doing and the fact it was FREE! Even when I went to the financial aid offices and tried to anonymously pay off balances, they all kind of gave me blank stares. FINALLY, when it was realized I wanted nothing in return, they began finding me the students. Frank Lawrence, a Morehouse graduate, was at my first dinner and he has been a huge help ever since. He provided me with the first Morehouse students to benefit from us paying off balances.
Everything has transpired organically; someone sees what we are doing, believes in it, and then asks to help—it has honestly been that seamless. I went from funding much of this out of pocket to having corporate sponsors, and that is nothing but God’s grace.
Do you foresee your Foundation being replicated (in time) at other HBCU's?
I think there are probably multiple organizations helping students, but I think our approach is unique in that we make it a point that the process is EASY, and rarely academically based. So many things go into a college education, we want to minimize or eliminate anything that threatens one's ability to graduate. We assist ANY full time student at the 107 HBCU's.
Please give our readers a glimpse into some of the people and corporations that have assisted you in your efforts.
We extend many thanks to Coca-Cola, Puma, AT&T, Gardner Trial Attorneys, The Chapel of Peace Funeral Homes, Paschal's Restaurant, among others, for their continued support.
I also extend personal thanks to:
Kenneth Reginald O’Rourke, Esquire (Morehouse) my husband and True Blue 1881 Inc’s resident DJ, who donates his time, talent and resources while giving me the flexibility to live in my purpose.
Túere Nucklos (Spelman), Biological sister and True Blue 1881 supporter
Joy Smith (Spelman) Chief Philanthropy Officer and Co-Founder of True Blue 1881
Kanika Sloan Williams, Esquire (Spelman), Board member, True Blue 1881
Kimberly Bryant, MBA, (Spelman), Board member, True Blue 1881
Kenya Thacker Pierre, Esquire, (Spelman) Board member, True Blue 1881
Juanita Ramos, MS Spelman Sister and board member, True Blue 1881
Kevin Washington, M.D.
Clifton Prince, M.D.
Eric McGlothen (Morehouse)
Kevin Washington, M.D. (Morehouse)
Lonzy Robertson (Morehouse)
John Peoples (Florida A&M)
Jason Dirden (Morehouse)
Edward Platenburg (Morehouse)
Vincent Watson (Alabama State)
Kenisha Barron (Spelman)
Mark Sequeira (Morehouse)
Pamela Cooper (Spelman)
Lara Clay (Spelman)
Nicole Lewis Edwards (Spelman)
Joslyn Jackson, Esquire (Spelman)
Desmon Short, Executive Chef
Dorian Hunter, Fox 5 Master Chef
How can Hobbservation Point readers contribute to the cause?
Please feel free to donate via:
Venmo: @trueblue1881 (business account)
Facebook: True Blue 1881 Inc.
So, join Ol’ Hobbs and contribute any amount that you can to help out the next generation of leaders hailing from America's storied HBCU's!