FedEx’s headquarter location may best be known for being the home of the Blues and the birthplace of rock-n-roll, but it’s also the origin of Tennessee State University and LeMoyne-Owen College, two HBCUs in the heart of Memphis. The transport company’s close proximity to these institutions has fostered a two-decade-long relationship between the entities. That connection has taken on new meaning in the face of COVID-19.     

In February, FedEx announced a $5 million-dollar commitment to support TSU and LeMoyne-Owen, along with two HBCUs in Mississippi, Jackson State University and Mississippi Valley State University. While grants in the past were earmarked for particular preparedness programs and training or students who met pre-determined criteria, the latest round of grants was left to each school’s discretion, to address a myriad of school and student needs. While the funding has better situated the schools who have benefitted, the exposure FedEx has brought along with its support has been a true game-changer.

“We have all kinds of opportunities through other relationships that we have at FedEx to tell the message of HBCUs, outside of just the philanthropic dollars,” says Rose Jackson Flenorl, Global Citizenship Manager at FedEx. Those relationships include ties in the sports arena. Though somewhat unexpected given NASCAR’s lack of diversity, FedEx made the decision to put the names of the four institutions they support in Memphis and Mississippi on the hood and rear bumpers of cars, to, as Flenorl explains, “bring about awareness, conversations, and exposure to these schools.”

According to a 2018-2019 U.S. Department of Education study, there were 101 historically Black colleges in the United States with more than 228,000 students enrolled. That equates to more than 6,000 fewer students than the previous year and was the lowest total since 2001. COVID exasperated these numbers with students opting for online learning or remaining local in the wake of unprecedented times. A bigger branding push for these institutions could be a make or break for some. 

Ahead of the NFL’s first season game, FedEx announced that they would be bringing back their annual ground player and air player of the week. But this year they will be partnering with the Thurgood Marshall Fund to make a $2,000 donation in the name of the winning quarterback and running back ($4,000 total) to HBCUs this week. The funding will go towards need-based scholarships to deserving HBCU students.

“When you look at what gives you the opportunity to make dreams possible, it is that access to economic opportunity,” says Flenorl. “And there are two ways to achieve it—through education and through entrepreneurship,” Flenorl adds that this is the reason why the philanthropy dollars she manages for FedEx are geared toward advancing inclusion, encouraging learning and leadership, and promoting economic opportunities.