There was real “March Madness” at the basketball game held in the Alabama State University Dunn-Oliver Acadome on March 7, as an ASU alumnus helped to ease the financial burdens of a group of graduating seniors.
Most students only dream of graduating from college with a “zero balance” on their school accounts. Thanks to the generosity of a philanthropic alumnus and his wife, those dreams have come true for 34 students who are part of the ASU Sesquicentennial Class of 2017.
The students were invited to attend the March 7, SWAC basketball tournament game between the Lady Hornets and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
At halftime, the students who were able to attend were led onto center court, having been told only that they would be honored as ASU seniors. They stood in front of the crowd where alumnus Clarenton “Nicky” Crawford was introduced to make a special announcement.
“In memory of my mother, I have established a scholarship in her name to honor her legacy,” said Crawford. “Tonight, I want to announce to all of you that your balances owed to the University have been removed, as you are the newest Rosa Bell Crawford Scholars. You now have a clear balance to finish your studies at Alabama State University. Congratulations!”
The Dunn-Oliver Acadome erupted into cheers and applause at Crawford’s announcement. Grateful students shed tears and shook Crawford’s hand or embraced him enthusiastically, still trying to grasp the fact that they would be leaving college with a zero balance on their accounts.
Amber Barnett, a criminal justice major from Athens, Ga., brought her three-year-old son Caiden with her to the game. She burst into tears when the announcement was made.
“It means so much to me,” said Barnett. “My mother is a single parent and I have a child of my own. My balance is about $6,000, and I know my mother would not have been able to pay that. It just means so much to us.”
Crawford, a 1974 ASU graduate, is a native of Dothan, Ala. He owns Crawford Enterprises, Inc., in Stone Mountain, Ga. The company has operated since 1990.
Crawford and three of his siblings graduated from ASU.
“My mother only had an eighth-grade education,” Crawford said. “But she was adamant that her kids obtain a college degree. She would be so happy to see what happened tonight. She was the type of person who loved people and was always giving to others. She would be so glad about this.”
Crawford’s wife Deborah wiped away tears, as she and her husband hugged each student individually.
“This just touches my heart,” she said. “We are a people that need to keep lifting each other up. We are a village, and these students need a village.”
The scholarship awards totaled nearly $50,000.
“These acts of benevolence go on forever,” said Interim President, Dr. Leon C. Wilson. “Memories of these moments never leave these students. They will be inspired to do the same thing. That’s what alumni do for us. When they emulate not only a giving spirit but also a caring spirit, it develops into a wonderful circle of beneficence that continues forever.”
ASU’s vice president for Institutional Advancement coordinated the surprise event, along with her staff.
“Mr. Crawford showed exemplary leadership tonight by giving directly to the immediate needs of the students,” said Zillah M. Fluker. “With state and federal appropriations to higher education being low and student indebtedness being extremely high, our students really need more Nicky Crawfords.”