Sponsored Content from JPMorgan Chase

In the days and weeks after George Floyd died, the head of Prairie View A&M University had what she now calls “an awakening.”

“We woke up to the fact that we are not doing enough to address racial division and inequality in our country,” said Ruth Simmons, President of Prairie View A&M. “We are not doing enough to prepare and empower our students to play a leadership role in addressing this serious issue… We can’t think enough about this. We can’t engage enough about this. It is serious work.”

That led Simmons to call for establishing the Center for Race and Justice, which will encourage teaching and scholarship to overturn generations of systemic bias. All students at the Houston-area college will take a required course on the history of race and class in America. An Activist-in-Residence program will host activists and organizers to educate students about commitment to service and community. The center also plans to work with police departments and criminal justice agencies to help them work better with the community.

“The center will keep a light shining on issues we have never sufficiently addressed,” Simmons said.

To help illuminate those social justice issues, JPMorgan Chase & Co. made a $50,000 grant to support the Justice Symposium. This event will invite notable leaders to deepen our understanding of topics such as voter suppression, policing, discrimination, racial division, societal healing, and other critical public issues. 

While far from the largest gift made to establish the center, the investment is in addition to recent recruitment initiatives at the school to build a career pathway for technology students who want to pursue a career at the state’s largest financial institution.

“We have established a partnership with Prairie View A&M, and we want to grow that relationship,” said Wilford Stevens, who is an Executive Director, Global Technology Infrastructure, and also responsible for Diversity & Inclusion initiatives at the JPMorgan Chase Houston Technology Center. “We are looking to expand that program beyond technology to other academic departments as well.”

“There is a lot of talent at Prairie View,” said Stevens, whose own father graduated from the college some years ago. “We look forward to making greater inroads there.”

Simmons says partnerships like these are significant steps forward for the university.

“Imagine that you are a student from an underserved community. Imagine that people have not paid a lot of attention to you. You’ve been assigned to underperforming schools. Until you arrived at Prairie View A&M, you may not have felt important or valued,” she said. “Every time a renowned institution like JPMorgan Chase comes around and says, ‘We want to work with you because you matter and have talent,’ — just imagine how that feels. It gives the students a vision of what they can accomplish.”

The potential impact, she said, goes well beyond that one student.

“And if these students can strive and succeed, they have an opportunity to lift their entire family out of poverty. It is hard to overstate the impact that involvement between Prairie View and an institution like JPMorgan Chase can have,” she said. “It is a huge thing.”