HBCUs Have A Friend In This Baseball Legend, As This $3 Million Gift Proves

We've written before about the important role that philanthropy can play in supporting historically black colleges and universities, which face a unique set of challenges. Another story of this country's racial wealth gap and history of economic exclusion can be told through endowment numbers. In 2014, five HBCUs Howard, Spelman, Hampton University, Meharry Medical College, and Florida A&M had a combined endowment of around $1.5 billion. Harvard University on its own, meanwhile, has an endowment of over $30 billion. Even my own alma mater—Pomona College, a small liberal arts college—has an endowment of over $2 billion, though this isn't typical.

Related: Why Are Black Colleges Struggling? And What Are Funders Doing About That?

But maybe the numbers for historically black schools can change over time, as more African-Americans achieve substantial wealth. The grads of HBCUs include people like Oprah Winfrey and Rosalind Brewer, CEO of Sam's Club. Oprah, of course, has supported historically black colleges and universities over the years, including Morehouse College in Atlanta.

Speaking of Morehouse, its School of Medicine recently received a $3 million gift from baseball legend Hank Aaron and his wife Billye. The gift will expand the Hugh Gloster Medical Education building and create the Billye Suber Aaron Student Pavilion.

Aaron and Billye's philanthropy has been laser-focused on education. The couple created the Chasing The Dream Foundation, which focuses on youth and has awarded hundreds of scholarships in its history. Recent grantmaking at the foundation has also involved a trail of HBCUs including Morehouse ($104,000 in 2013), Spelman College, Dillard University, Tuskegee University, Texas College, and Talladega College, which is Alabama's oldest HBCU. 

It's easy to see how Aaron's own background might motivate him toward supporting education and historically-black colleges and universities. Before becoming one of baseball's greatest sluggers, holding Major League Baseball's home-run record for more than three decades, he was born into a poor section of Mobile, Alabama. Too poor to afford baseball equipment, Aaron hit bottle caps with a stick. Baseball was his ticket out, and Aaron got his start in the Negro Leagues. He recalls a Washington D.C. restaurant that broke all the plates after his team dined there. Aaron went on to play for the Atlanta Braves for years, and much of the couple's philanthropy has focused on this region.

For years, Aaron's wife Billye worked with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and graduated from Texas College, an HBCU that's received support from the couple. In addition, she founded the UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball and recently chaired the Phenomenal Women Luncheon to honor Morehouse School of Medicine’s then newly appointed President, helping to raise over $600,000 in scholarships for Morehouse medical students.