A businessman once named the most influential black person in Britain has launched a campaign to raise £1 million to fund further or higher education for 100 young people from underprivileged backgrounds.
Ric Lewis is a founding partner of property investment firm Tristan Capital Partners and also the founder and chair of the Black Heart Foundation.
Through the Black Heart Scholarship, which launched in 2013, the charity provides funding for young people who would not otherwise be able to afford to go on to higher or further education.
Mr Lewis told the PA news agency: “You’ve got talented, committed, very hard working, on the verge of being successful, young people who are finding that the biggest impediment between now and the future is being able to afford what they’ve already been accepted to.
“We try to remove that by gap-funding the difference between what it costs for them to pursue the programme they’ve been accepted to and what they can afford to pay.”
Since its launch, the scholarship has funded 100 young people, 85% of which have been black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and 60% of which have been female.
Mr Lewis, who topped the Powerlist rankings of most influential people of African and African Caribbean heritage in the UK in 2019, is now aiming to double that number to 200 with the help of the charity’s first ever public appeal.
The foundation is hoping for £500,000 of donations from “friends, colleagues, corporates and the public” – and the board of trustees, which also includes former England rugby captain Matt Dawson and former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan, will match it penny for penny in their Each Day Every Day campaign.
Mr Lewis said that, in the wake of media coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement, now was the right time to ask the public for help.
“Many people are looking for the thing they can do to change the narrative, to change the reality of the world today, because their senses have been heightened by all the press and protests over the last several weeks, and we think we’re providing a very tangible and actionable way for them to partner with us and do some real good in the world,” he said.
“We think education is one of the most potent, productive levellers of the future and we think that offering people the opportunity to partner with us to change the narrative and change the future through education, this was the right time to do it.”
The crowdfunder was launched earlier this week and by Friday had reached £180,000 towards the £500,000 goal.
Mr Lewis said the number of applications the charity has received for the scholarship has gone up “several-fold” during the Covid-19 pandemic as the economic hardship caused by the shutdown starts to bite.
“It’s very clear that this is disproportionately affecting the communities that we aim to serve,” Mr Lewis said.
“We’ve seen the numbers in he press in recent days that 18-25-year-olds are going to be disproportionately affected, and BAME households are going to be even more disproportionately affected.
“When you double that effect for the under-resourced, BAME and under-represented communities that we serve in the 18-24 range, it’s just begging for more of what we do.
“I think the public understands that emotionally, but I think people have been groping and grasping for what they can do to make change, rather than just talk about making change.”
Scholars from the scheme have gone to top universities including Oxford and Cambridge, as well as attending more vocational training programmes, and gone on to careers in medicine, finance and the Civil Service.
Amina Abonde-Adigun was last month awarded the foundation’s 100th scholarship, to study for an MSc in Public Health at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a course she had been trying to find a way to finance for four years.
She said: “Being a Black Heart scholar has provided me with an enormous boost. It has given me funding but also confidence and mentoring.
“They believed in me and that invaluable support has allowed me to focus fully on my studies.”
Mr Lewis, who was brought up in the United States but moved to the UK more than 20 years ago, said opportunity and access for BAME people when he arrived was comparable to the 1970s in parts of America.
He said: “I’ve seen that change.
“The conversation about social mobility and skills and helping under-represented communities has moved on, not as rapidly as it needs to, and I think the Black Lives Matter movement and all the stuff that’s been going on has highlighted there’s even more to do.
“We’ve come a long way but there’s still a long way to go.”
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