Attending college can be an expensive undertaking for anyone. And, for Black students who have aged out of the foster care system, getting from the first day of class to the finish line of graduation can often seem like an unattainable goal.
It’s estimated that while 70% of kids in foster care dream of college, only 3% realize their dream to go, and only 1% go on to graduate. Housing insecurity, living expenses, lack of access to technology, and minimal family contribution often keep former foster youth from completing a degree.
The discouraging statistics are something that award-winning TV Editor & Producer TeeJ Mercer wanted to see change, and that’s why she started Move-In Day Mafia (MIDM).
Founded in 2022, MIDM is an organization of volunteers that provide complete dorm room makeovers and financial assistance to first-year students at Historically Black Colleges And Universities (HBCUs) who have “aged out of foster care, are homeless, or require financial aid.”
“How can students focus, create and thrive when they are worried about their basic human needs,” said Mercer in a release shared with ESSENCE. “I just want them to go to school and not have to work two or three jobs to take care of themselves. The only thing they should be concerned about is studying hard, partying, making memories, and ultimately graduating.”
There are 107 colleges and universities in the United States that the U.S. Department of Education identifies as HBCUs. These institutions of higher learning are responsible for producing 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black doctors, and 50 percent of Black lawyers in America, among other respected professions.
In the organization’s first year, 13 freshmen were moved into Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas. For the 2023-2024 school year, Move-In Day Mafia will be able to help 39 students at three schools: Paul Quinn College, Prairie View A&M University, and Fisk University.
For Mercer, herself an HBCU alum as a graduate of Howard University, the passion and dedication of the volunteers who have helped make this happen is something that she says could only be described as “mind-blowing.”
However, she says there is much to be done, noting that the two greatest challenges are getting students from a vulnerable demographic to apply instead of thinking assistance like this is “too good to be true” and the ongoing funding needed to sustain the work of the non-profit.
“It costs about $1700 to get each of our MIDM scholars moved in and set up with their first few months of care packages,” Mercer tells ESSENCE. “But we have resolved that we will do EVERYTHING in our power to disrupt the Foster Care to prison pipeline and transform it into the Foster Care to HBCU graduate pipeline!”
The help that MIDM provides to former foster care youth does not stop at move-in day. It gives students care packages during the school year, including hygiene and cleaning products. “We want to ensure they stay focused on being a student and allowing us to take care of their basic needs,” said Mercer.