Morehouse College freshman Jauan Durbin may not have been able to pursue his degree if not for the mentorship he received from Black, Gifted and Whole, a nonprofit organization that dedicates itself to the empowerment of young, queer black men.
Its most recent extension of this initiative is the launch of the Ambassador Program, which awards partial scholarships to black queer men attending historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs. Last September, Durbin became the program’s first scholarship recipient. But he won’t be its last.
BGW co-founders Guy Anthony and George Johnson told The Huffington Post that while Durbin was their inspiration for the program, they also recognized that young, black queer men attending HBCUs don’t receive much support on campus. Each school year, the program will award up to five scholarships.
“Being gay is not considered much of a ‘norm,’ especially on HBCU campuses,” Johnson said.
According to a report by the University of Pennsylvania,only 21 of the 105 HBCUs in the U.S. have LGBTQ organizations.
“Dealing with living as an openly gay person, in addition to problems we deal with in the black church around homophobia and masculinity issues can create an environment that isn’t very conducive to learning, growth and nurturing for these men,” Johnson continued.
Students with the Ambassador Program will receive support and mentorship from BGW throughout their college experience. Johnson and Anthony raise money for the scholarships through GoFundMe campaigns, private donors, galas and grant submissions.
“Our goal is to ensure that these young men know that they don’t have to live their lives in pieces and can truly embody the essence of what it means to be black, gifted and whole,” Johnson said.
Durbin himself dealt with homophobia in school. As the first male cheerleader at School Without Walls in Washington, D.C., he was bullied by his peers. When he applied to Morehouse, he was initially denied because of a low GPA. But with the help of Johnson and Anthony, he successfully appealed and was accepted into the college.
In a statement sent to HuffPost, Durbin said that since attending Morehouse, he has worked to make his HBCU campus more inclusive of the LGBTQ community. He was even elected a freshman class senator in his first semester. In this position, he began an effort to make the school’s constitution more inclusive by advocating for the implementation of non-binary pronouns.
“I am blossoming into the black queer man that I was destined to be at the institution that I was destined to help change,” Durbin said.