Over $1Million Awarded in Student Scholarships by Low-Income Housing Community

One by one they stepped to the podium to share how they shielded naysayers and remained steadfast to follow their dreams. These are the recipients of the 2022 Rev. Andrew C. Davison scholarship fund whose life perils turned to promise.

“I’ve come to realize that the hard times that we go through in life, bring out the best in us,” said Kebba Bojang, a former Northport resident who went on to receive a doctorate in pharmacy.  “I was born in a small country in Gambia, West Africa. It’s where all the trans-Saharan trade happened. High school was a breeze for me and then we moved to the United States. 

“People here asked me weird questions like did you live in huts and trees? Did you wrestle lions? I told a guy; Do you really think if I wrestled lions, you would have the guts to talk to me like that?” Bojang added, garnering laughter and applause.

The Scholar’s Banquet, held in September at the Monona Terrace beginning, is the tireless work of the Housing Ministries of Wisconsin and Porco Consulting. To date over $1,057,000 in educational scholarships have been awarded to residents at the six low-income housing communities based in both Madison and Milwaukee. The event was a salute to the success of more than 100 residents who have pursued higher education. They have not only continued to show progress toward their degrees, but have also collectively maintained a 3.3 grade point average on a 4.0 scale.

The scholarship program is part of the unique management model developed by Rev. Dr. Carmen Porco at each housing sites. These communities have worked over the past 43 years to develop place-based educational programming that is resident directed – including Head Start, various afterschool and summer programs, college preparation, adult education and employment assistance. 

“I want the audience to know that we couldn’t do this alone,” Porco said. “Our board members are people of faith, who know how to take risk and who know how to shed light in the scenes of darkness and who care deeply about the least of these. 

“They are aware that there are any number of developers that want to buy our places so they could turn it into affordable housing. We could probably get about $120 million giving it away. That’s a big temptation, particularly when board members perform a very difficult task. That task is keeping the faith, focusing on the integrity and honor of the quote, unquote poor people. We know our job is to be a gatekeeper, to protect and defend the honor of the dignity of those children of God that have less income.”

Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a pioneer of cultural inclusion in the classroom, served as the evening’s keynote speaker. In her talk, titled “Make sure you understand the assignment,” Billings compared the scholar recipients to the Bible’s Nehemiah, whose role changed from that of an ordinary man to a royal cupbearer and then governor of Judah.

“Nehemiah was a leader who cared,” said Billings, past president of the National Academy of Education. “He was empathetic. He was compassionate and concerned about his community. He was not content to just stand by the king and enjoy the good life while others were suffering. Your job is not merely to become a doctor or nurse, teacher or lawyer or accountant in pursuit of the American dream. Your job is to return to Jerusalem. You must come back to Jerusalem (your communities) to rebuild the walls and make right that which is wrong. 

“Be a caring, compassionate leader. Be willing to take a risk and stand on the reality of your insurmountable faith. Then you will truly understand the assignment,” Billings added.

Following dinner, the honorees received symbolic oversized checks and posed for pictures with board members.

“Tonight, I pray that we don’t become just like any other housing development or that we lose the spirit of what we’re about,” Porco said. “I pray that we don’t fall victim to thinking that poor people are the problem. Pray for us, to continue to have the vision of our identity with the integrity of inclusion and justice for all.”