Student loan debt has become so pervasive in society that many 2020 Presidential Candidates are building their platforms around the issue. A recent study has found that over 83% of black students find themselves borrowing private and federal loans.

With this in mind, African Pride and JFM Curl Peace have teamed up with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) to create the Wear Your Crown With Confidence Loan Forgiveness & Scholarship Program. The initiative seeks to help black students from HBCUs and other 4-year accredited universities relieve the pressure that comes with mounting student loan debt.

When looking to make an impact on their core consumer demographic, African Pride found that their consumer’s ages 18-35 were not only searching for ways to style and maintain their natural hair, but that they were also dealing with the stress and anxiety that comes with repaying student loans and trying to build a stable financial future.

Dawn Thompson, Executive Vice President, and Chief Marketing Officer at Strength of Nature (an African Pride/JFM Curl Peace parent company) says that during discussions with Kendria Strong, Director of Marketing for African Pride and Kelly Keith, Vice President of JFM Curl Peace and Premium Brands on how to improve their products and offerings based on the needs of their consumers, they started digging a bit deeper than hair care.

“The thought was, ‘What can we do for this consumer?’. We really have a heart for loan forgiveness,” Thompson says of the executive team members who are also HBCU alumni. “We know it’s crippling for millennials. So, we began to brainstorm how to go about offering something that will change lives. That was the beginning,” she tells ESSENCE in an interview.

Dawn Thompson, Executive Vice President, and Chief Marketing Officer at Strength of Nature announces $1 million pledge at 75 Annual UNCF Gala June 22, 2019. Photo: Courtesy of LeVern A. Danley III

“Restoring the confidence to current students and graduates also played a role in the decision to launch the initiative,” shares Thompson.

“The idea is, after college, you land a big job, get that good car, buy a home, and start a family. Those are things you should confidently be thinking about. But we all know someone who doesn’t get to that point of life– feeling confident after graduation because the debt comes immediately. We want to change that feeling.”

Photo: Courtesy of LeVern A. Danley III

The funds for the Wear Your Crown With Confidence Loan Forgiveness & Scholarship Program will come from African Pride and JFM Curl Peace brands. “Putting up the money up front was a very deliberate decision from the brand,” shares Thompson.

To determine eligibility, applicants will be asked to submit an essay that expresses how student loan debt has affected their ability to thrive in their career and community. Community building is a major pillar of the African Pride and JFM Curl Peace brand, and they want applicants to not only show a need in their personal lives but an impact in their professional lives.

A cumulative student loan debt in excess of 40% of their income, plus a minimum 2.5-grade point average are just a few of the concrete requirements for applicants.

The $1 million gifts are set to be distributed over three years. The goal, however, is to be able to extend the program past 2020 and give an even larger gift. For this, African Pride is encouraging donors to lend their support, and for consumers to know that portions of proceeds from the sale of their products will be going toward the UNCF Wear Your Crown with Confidence Loan Forgiveness & Scholarship Program.

Photo: Courtesy of LeVern A. Danley III

The initiative will go beyond rewarding funds. It will also offer free financial literacy and planning resources for current and past students, as they strive to grow an online community of support through the #UNCFWearYourCrown hashtag online.

“There will be lots of opportunities to get involved,” says Thompson. “Whether it’s through being a donor, being a financial literacy educator, or just having conversation; we’re looking to create a place for people who see themselves and want to be involved.”

Applications for the UNCF Wear Your Crown with Confidence Loan Forgiveness & Scholarship Program will be accepted now until July 26, 2019. Applications reopen in January 2020. To learn more about the program, go to UNCF.org/scholarships and follow both UNCF ( @UNCF ) and African Pride ( @MyAfricanPride) on social media.

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