ATLANTA—Morehouse College received a $2 million gift from The Ray Charles Foundation to provide scholarships to outstanding business majors. The foundation is dedicated to promoting excellence in academics and the arts and supporting charitable causes championed by the late, legendary Grammy-Award-winning musician Ray Charles.
The contribution expands the foundation’s legacy of support for Morehouse. Since 1995, the nonprofit has donated more than $9.6 million to the College, including serving as a major investor in the construction of the Ray Charles Performing Arts Center, RAYPAC, in 2013. RAYPAC is the creative home of the Morehouse College Glee Club and the Morehouse College “House of Funk” Marching Band.
“Morehouse College is committed to empowering leaders who are prepared to solve the greatest challenges facing the world today and tomorrow, a mission Ray Charles championed through his artistry, philanthropy, and advocacy,” said David A. Thomas, President of Morehouse College. “The Ray Charles Foundation is a longtime supporter of Morehouse and has carried on the tradition of excellence and service that was a hallmark of Ray Charles—a musical genius, a successful businessman, and cultural ambassador to the world. I would like to thank The Ray Charles Foundation for its contribution and applaud the foundation leaders whose work is being honored by this scholarship.”
According to the Ray Charles Foundation, Charles lost his sight at age seven, but he never let his inability to see hinder his will to succeed. In 1937, his mother enrolled him in a school for the blind and deaf in St. Augustine, Florida. Charles later invested in improving the lives of the deaf by paying for cochlear implant surgery for patients who could not afford the operation. He said that “the inability to hear was a handicap, not the inability to see.” Charles also gave generously to educational institutions to help students who could not afford higher education.
In February 2001, Morehouse presented Charles with a Lifetime Achievement in Arts and Entertainment Award at the annual “A Candle in the Dark” Gala and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in the May 2001 Commencement exercises.
The Ray Charles Foundation scholarship will continue Charles’ legacy of support for education and honor the work of Valerie Ervin and Robert C. Davidson Jr., two foundation leaders with an esteemed record of service as members of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees. The donation will fund the Valerie Ervin Student Success Endowed Scholarship, named after The Ray Charles Foundation’s president, and the Robert C. Davidson Jr. Student Success Endowed Scholarship, named after the foundation’s chairman, a 1967 graduate of Morehouse and chairman emeritus of the Morehouse Board of Trustees.
The scholarships will be awarded through Morehouse’s Student Success Program, which the Board of Trustees launched in 2019 to help rising Morehouse Men thrive financially after graduation. Debt-erasing Student Success Program scholarships allow Morehouse Men to pursue advanced degrees, start careers, and build wealth without being tethered to undergraduate student loan debt related to their Morehouse education.
Trustee Ervin worked with Ray Charles to build his foundation from its origins in 1986 into an international force for change that has invested more than $33 million in charitable causes. Ervin oversees every aspect of the foundation and continues to expand its footprint as it contributes to causes that align with its mission to empower the youth by providing access to educational institutions and programs.
“Ray was a musical innovator who had a heart for underserved communities and human rights struggles worldwide. He had a quiet but passionate approach to philanthropy which underscored his approach to creativity and performance style. But it is that quiet force that has led The Ray Charles Foundation to be at the forefront of generous donations to various institutions across the United States,” Ervin said. “Ray believed that access to quality education was a fundamental right that is paramount to curbing poverty. I am honored to share my name that will support the education of business majors who have a passion for community activism and operate in the spirit of excellence displayed by Ray Charles.”
Chairman Emeritus Davidson, who served as chair of the Morehouse Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2017, retired in 2007 as founder and CEO of Surface Protection Industries, one of California’s top African American-owned manufacturing companies. He is the first African American to serve as chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. He also serves on the boards of organizations such as Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Jacobs Engineering Group, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Broadway Federal Bank. Davidson was the recipient of the Morehouse College Bennie Leadership Award, among other accolades. The president’s residence at Morehouse, Davidson House, was also named in his honor.
“As an alumnus, chairman emeritus, and a retired entrepreneur, I am honored to share my name with a business scholarship that will support men of distinction who possess the vision and tenacity for uplifting communities of color that Ray Charles expressed through his music and charitable contributions,” Davidson said. “Ray was a friend of Morehouse whose life story of perseverance serves as an inspiration to our scholars. His very existence as an icon in a predominantly white music industry toppled barriers, opening the door for Black artists, businessmen, and activists to aspire for excellence on a world stage.”
Morehouse is dedicated to the education and development of men who are focused on academic excellence, leadership, and service. The College of more than 2,200 students has a nationally-acclaimed business program that is recognized for preparing men of color for managerial and executive leadership roles. Morehouse is also a top-feeder school for Black men entering top-ranked MBA programs.