Scholarship Provides Greater Stepping Stone
For 40 Years, Greater Steps Scholars has Helped Nearly 1,000 Local Public-Housing Kids go to College
You might say Victor and the Good Lord are responsible for helping nearly 1,000 public housing kids from Mecklenburg County go to college and chase their dreams beyond the classroom.
Dr. John T. Crawford has told the story before. But as founder of Greater Steps Scholars, he relishes in the retelling – and in celebrating 40 years of lifting young people as far as their gifts will take them.
It’s 1982. Crawford directs youth services for what was then known as Charlotte Housing Authority (now known as INLIVIAN). Back then, 5,000 children and youth lived with their families in subsidized housing or public housing communities, the names of which are woven into Charlotte’s history: among them Earle Village and Southside Homes. School truancy was a challenge, and Crawford hungered to do something about it.
That’s when a young man named Victor came to Crawford. Victor grew up in Dalton Village on West Boulevard, five miles from uptown. A senior at Winston-Salem State University, he was maintaining a 3.4 GPA, looking forward to one more year of academic success. But, as he told Crawford, there was one problem: “I need $300 to be able to go back to school.”
Say no more. Crawford raised the $300 from a benevolent man he knew, allowing Victor to return to school and graduate with a 3.9 GPA. This isn’t the end of the story. Crawford heard God saying to him, “I want you to do what you’ve been doing.”
A Greater Steps Primer
Crawford, 85, grew up on a farm outside Rock Hill, S.C., graduated from Johnson C. Smith University and spent 20 years with the organization now known as INLIVIAN before retiring in 1989.
He’s lost track of Victor. It’s been a while, after all. But the program that came out of all this – Greater Steps Scholars, housed at Foundation For The Carolinas – is embedded upon his heart. So is its mission.
As Crawford said, “Kids had abilities but not resources.”
Some important facts and figures from through the program’s 40-year history:
- Ninety-two percent of scholars are the first in their family to further their education after high school.
- Since Greater Steps Scholars’ inception in 1983, $4.2 million has gone to 981 students attending 80 different colleges, universities, vocational or trade schools.
- Students under age 25 who live in subsidized and public housing in Mecklenburg are eligible for scholarships to post-secondary education. Scholarships are awarded annually for up to five years. There are three tiers, generally based on GPA – $1,500, $2,500 and up to $4,000 a year.
- In addition to financial aid, Greater Steps Scholars receive one-on-one mentoring, life skills classes (dressing for an interview, writing a resume, public speaking and the like) and, when needed, emotional and mental health support.
- Donations of dorm and school supplies are welcome. Greater Steps Scholars is supported by private, tax-deductible donations from individuals, foundations, businesses and houses of worship. The Believers & Achievers fundraising gala is April 27, 2023. Visit greatersteps.org.
Facts and figures tell part of the story. Former scholars tell the rest. Here are a few stories of how Greater Steps helped change the course of their lives.
‘There’s Got To Be Something Better’
The support that A.B. Blake, 58, received from Greater Steps Scholars helped him learn the most important fact of life. With apologies to poet Langston Hughes, dreams don’t have to be deferred. As he remembers thinking 40 years ago, “There’s got to be something better than staying in public housing in Charlotte.”
For A.B., as most everyone calls him, there was.
The third of four children, his father died when he was 7. He was raised by his mother, Juanita, at Fairview Homes at Oaklawn and Statesville avenues in north Charlotte.
Like so many single parents, she was a hero. She did domestic work to support the family yet made sure she was there when A.B. left for school and there when he came home. He didn’t have new clothes, but he had nice clothes.
He had love. But as the Greater Steps folks like to point out, love doesn’t pay for college.
A.B. remembers sitting on the front porch one day at Fairview Homes. Virginia Massey Jamison, who worked for Charlotte Housing Authority and made it her mission to knock on doors, approached him with something in her hand. “I have this application,” she told A.B. “You better fill this application out. There are people interested in you.”
Those people were from Greater Steps. He filled out the application and was awarded financial aid and the mentoring and encouragement that came with it. “The rest,” he said, “is history.”
A.B. graduated from Independence High School and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro in 1989. That’s where he learned to live on his own, manage time, wash his own clothes and get along with roommates. That’s where his dreams began to unfold.
Today, he lives outside Washington, D.C. with his wife, Michelle, and two children and works for Washington Headquarters Services as Senior Engineer Program Manager. Where he works is a source of deep pride for him. A.B. is part of the team that helps oversee facilities and building projects at The Pentagon.
Somewhere in a busy life he managed to find time to earn two Master Certificates of Science, study at the Harvard Kennedy School and spend a year in Iraq as a civilian, providing program and financial management at two U.S. bases.
Raising a beautiful family, working at The Pentagon, going to class at Harvard. A.B. was right. There was something waiting for him beyond Fairview Homes.
“Greater Scholars changed the trajectory of my life,” he said. “I don’t take it for granted.”
‘I’m Really Proud Of My Story’
DeAnna Turner’s family moved to Section 8 Housing (for renters needing assistance)
in the Derita community off West Sugar Creek Road in north Charlotte to escape from domestic violence. Her mother was the intended victim, but DeAnna found herself in the line of fire growing up.
“I was never hurt as bad as my mom,” she said.
Financially challenged, one eye on her mom, the other on an angry fist, DeAnna learned to endure and overcome. “I can handle a lot,” she said.
DeAnna, 26, graduated from North Mecklenburg High School. In 2019, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Chemistry from UNC Charlotte – an achievement made possible by a Greater Steps scholarship.
“Since I was 18, I lived alone and paid for my living expenses,” DeAnna said. “My mother was not financially able to help as much as she wanted.
Greater Steps afforded me the ability to go to school without the heavy burden of wondering how I would pay.”
The money not only made college possible, it made the college experience possible.
“That sense of security allowed me to fully experience college and grow as a person,” she said. “Greater Steps believed in me and my future, giving me a space to nurture my dream of becoming a physician.”
She’s currently working as a medical assistant at Community Care Clinic of Rowan, which serves the underinsured and underprivileged in and around Salisbury.
She’s going to continue her education and is thinking about going into primary care medicine. That could change with time. She’s got options. She’s got resilience.
“I’m really proud of my story,” DeAnna said.
‘It Was That First Stepping Stone’
It was a springtime evening in 1991. Outside, Christopher Moxley was playing with his brother at Dillehay Courts off North Tryon Street in north Charlotte. The family had moved there when Christopher was finishing the fifth grade.
Inside, his newborn sister had just come home from the hospital. She was in the arms of her father. Suddenly a fight erupted in the courtyard. A bullet shattered the screen door and lodged in the wall of Christopher’s apartment. By the grace of God, everyone survived.
The lessons a young man learns. Duck for cover. Follow your mother’s orders and get home before the streetlights come on. Rise above your environment. Follow the pathway to your dreams. Then help somebody else.
“Greater Steps was that first stepping stone,” Christopher said. “You take that first step, then another and another …”
Christopher, 42, remembers it all. His mother, Randie, kept her four kids off the streets and in one piece. His extended family, including grandmothers and aunts, drilled into him a promise for his future.
Christopher poured himself into schoolwork, graduating near the top of his class at Harding High School. As she did for another scholar, A.B. Blake, Charlotte Housing Authority’s Virginia Massey Jamison (who passed away in March 2023) handed Christopher a Greater Steps application and off he went.
After one year at UNC Chapel Hill, he transferred to UNC Charlotte and graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration.
After a decade working in financial services, he and two partners in 2013 started the 704 Shop brand. One of the coolest shops in town, it sells high-end apparel (sweatshirt, T-shirts and the like) in person at its South End store and online. The brand is unmistakable. It seeks to bring Charlotteans together around the 704 area code/theme.
The grade-schooler raised in what he calls a “challenging environment” has become enough of a bottom-line businessman to sum up why the Greater Steps scholarship meant what it did: “It’s anybody’s guess how I would have paid for college.”
Greater Steps Scholars are taught to pay it forward. Christopher created the Jaylen C. Moxley Scholarship, named after his son. It goes to an incoming freshman from a challenged background to attend UNC Charlotte.
Kids from public housing who earned a Greater Steps scholarship are given preference. With his 704 Shop partners, he started a second scholarship for an incoming freshman from a challenged background to attend UNC Charlotte.
Forty years after launching the dreams of its first scholar, Greater Steps is still helping young scholars find their pathway to success.
Charlotte’s Ken Garfield is a freelance writer/editor who helps Foundation For The Carolinas tell its stories.