The Santa Monica College (SMC) Black Collegians Program Umoja Community has received a $325,000 donation from private donor Ann Wang. Wang’s gift will make possible an annual program fund to provide greater opportunities for SMC’s African American students, and also establishes an endowment. In fall 2019, the college’s Black Collegians program celebrated 30 years of championing the success of African American students, who make up about nine percent of the student body.
Wang — who oversees the Wang Joint Living Trust established by her in-laws — heard about the exciting, transformative work taking place at SMC through her long-time RAND colleague, Iao Katagiri, who recently retired from RAND as its community relations director. Eventually, Wang made her way to the college’s main campus on 1900 Pico Blvd. for a tour. She dropped by several classrooms and programs — including Black Collegians. Several students talked to her about their life experiences; Funmi Adeleye was one of them.
“I was just blown away by the passion and commitment — not just of the grown-ups in the room but also of the students themselves. I learned about some of the heartbreaking things these students have had to overcome, and what they have to fight every single day of their lives to get an education,” said Wang. “I thought ‘This is what I want to do.’”
And so, on a day that happened to be her birthday, Ann Wang came back to the SMC Black Collegians Umoja Community office on the second floor of the new SMC Student Services Center. It was the best birthday present to “give people what they need,” she said, adding: “We all cried.”
Wang’s $25,000 donation will support the Black Collegians Program Fund, as well as establish a new endowed fund with a gift of $300,000 to support the Black Collegians Program. Among other things, her gift will support food security programs for SMC Black Collegians, emergency funds, textbooks, and more. It will also make possible professional development and bring guest speakers to campus, university visits with chartered transportation for Black Collegians, and will support mental health counseling.
The Black Collegians Program — which recently added “Umoja Community” to its name to codify its support from the nonprofit, that also represents a statewide network of similar programs — was established in 1989 when then-SMC President Dr. Richard Moore challenged now retired counselor Deyna Hearn to find a way to boost lackluster transfer rates among SMC’s African American students. Hearn responded by creating Black Collegians.
Enrolling in Black Collegians comes with perks — but members must make a commitment: they need to attend two counseling sessions and at least three program activities each semester. Benefits include access to scholarships, priority enrollment, textbook vouchers, special Black Collegians-themed sections of 15 high-demand courses and a robust schedule of skill-building workshops. Working in tandem with this intensive support program is the student-run Black Collegians Club (BCC), which creates a lively Corsairs community around club meetings, special events, and social gatherings.
For several years running, SMC has transferred more African American students to the University of California than any other community college. In 2018-2019, African American transfers numbered 71 out of 1,272 SMC to UC transfers — an improvement from 54 in the past academic year. Efforts are underway through college-wide equity work encompassing support services, redesign of curriculum, and more to close the achievement gap between racially minoritized student groups and others.
For more information about SMC’s Black Collegians Umoja Community, check out smc.edu/BlackCollegians. And to learn more about the Santa Monica College Foundation, visit https://santamonicacollegefoundation.org/.
Submitted by Grace Smith