Howard University sweethearts Eddie C. Brown and C. Sylvia Brown have just made the largest alumni donation the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) has ever received.

According to the university, the couple pledged $5 million, which will be allocated toward Graduation Retention Access to Continued Excellence (GRACE), a need-based fund established by Howard University President Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick in 2014. 

“We are extremely grateful to Eddie and Sylvia for making this historic gift to Howard University,” Frederick shared in a press release. “The GRACE Grant has helped to eliminate financial barriers to education for Howard students, and I am thrilled that the Browns were inspired to commit such a generous gift to this important fund. My hope is that students will be inspired by their story and generosity and that others in our alumni community will consider the many ways they, too, can impact current and future generations of Howard students.”     

For Eddie and Sylvia, the donation is simply paying it forward to a school that allowed them to aim higher even when the odds were stacked against them. 

As only one of seven Black students in his courses, and growing up in a low-income family, attending college may have mimicked the experience of a window shopper — you can dream but you can’t have it. Luckily the dream became a reality due to the efforts of a community organizer.

“I moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania when I was 15,” said Eddie, according to the university. “We had a community organizer that would look out for the young Black children in the community. He came to me and my mother one day and said, ‘I was contacted by a woman who wants to help a young African-American student go to college.’ And it was my 10th grade English teacher, actually, who was a graduate of Howard [who] said, ‘You should go to Howard University.’”

Eddie would later be awarded a full-ride scholarship due to his family’s financial standings that would allow him to graduate with a bachelor of science in electrical engineering. For his lover of 63 years, a full scholarship was not in her trajectory. Therefore financial support would be needed to attend Howard. Her family worked to provide financial support, but costly expenses of school attendance would lead Sylvia to take out student loans.

“We were very fortunate to be able to go to Howard,” she said. “I had student loans, and I know how hard that is. Being from a family of four, my parents did the best they could, but that was never enough to pay for all the fees. And that’s been our mantra, to give to others and help them at least be able to get an undergraduate degree so they have a good foundation.”

Cognizant of their successful future, which would have been barred without financial provisions, the Browns’ were compelled to make the historic donation to advocate their love for Howard’s continued efforts for its student body.

“I remember a minister of ours said something that we never forgot,” says Eddie. “Those who are blessed should be a blessing to someone, especially those less fortunate. We always remember that. I was blessed to receive my college education debt-free, and I think it’s important to offer those less fortunate the opportunity to do so as well.”

“Our only hope is that students who benefit from our contribution do their best,” Sylvia says.

GRACE Grant, which provides financial relief for students and aims to increase on-time graduation rates, has proved to be impactful for recipients. According to Howard University, statistics show a 17 percent increase in retention and an average four-year graduation rate of 78 percent, in comparison to those who did not receive the grant.

This generous gesture has just become one of many pouring in for HBCUs. As AfroTech just reported, Nick Cannon, a former Howard graduate and television personality, paid off the debt of seven HBCU students in September 2021.