Black college alum Spike Lee has been in the news for his crowdsourcing efforts to raise funds for his next movie, but a soon-to-be HBCU freshman has used the practice to do something that would make the famed director proud: Pay for his first year of college.
Ward has been updating his progress through a Tumblr page, which appears to have gone live Aug. 6, and is collecting money via a PayPal account. The posts have been highly engaged and Ward’s requests for money have made their way around the web. Teach for America tweeted about the campaign and the rapper Common shared a link to the site.
After the first day alone, Ward raised nearly $2,100. “I would’ve never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would’ve turned out to become this massive,” Ward to the Huffington Post. “However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need.”
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Here is a little more on Ward’s background and the special woman who helped him raise the money:
Since the age of 14, Ward, along with his mom and two younger siblings, has been homeless in California. When times were really hard, they lived in his mom’s car, but otherwise they’ve moved between different shelters and relatives’ homes until they secured a spot at the Union Rescue Mission in Los Angeles’ Skid Row neighborhood in February 2012.
“In the past years, life has been very hectic,” he said. “We had a lot of ups and downs, but through it all, I’ve always managed to keep my grades up and help my younger brother and sister do the same and keep them on the right track as well as myself.”
Despite not having a stable home and attending three different high schools in four years, James graduated from San Pedro High School in June. Determined to attend college, he figured out a plan and made it happen — with a crucial helping hand from Jessica Sutherland.
Sutherland, the driving force behind the online campaign, is no stranger to the struggles Ward is facing because she also experienced homelessness as a teen, attended college and made a way for herself.
“I got my first period in a homeless shelter. I had Christmas in a homeless shelter,” said Sutherland, now a junior producer at Yahoo! Studios. “I know what it’s like to live in a homeless shelter at such a self-conscious age when you’re going through so much.”
She met Ward when she spoke at the Union Rescue Mission. “I was terrified, but I did it,” she recalled. “I told all the kids that scars heal and you probably couldn’t tell that I lived in a shelter like this when I was your age, and just tried to give them a message of hope and teach them to ask people for help.”
Ward, she said, stood out as clearly mature beyond his years. “Two kids asked me for my email address, and James had emailed me before I was even home. He really opened up with me.”
The $12, 000 Ward has raised so far handles expenses not covered by loans or grants. The L.A. native would like to raise enough money for all four years of college. But for now, he is grateful his first year is covered.
“I would’ve never thought that something we started just a couple of days ago would’ve turned out to become this massive,” Ward said. “However, it makes me feel very happy because I know that although the world may seem like a harsh and cold place, there are some people out there that care and want to give to those in need.”