Before landing his breakout role on ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy, actor Jesse Williams worked as a high school teacher in the public school system. There he watched ambitious, bright students try to leap over the very real and unscripted obstacles that stood in the way between them and a better life. For many the biggest hurdle wasn’t getting into college; it was paying for it. Fast forward a few years and it’s easy to see why the devoted activist is the newly tapped brand ambassador for Scholly, the mobile app that matches students with untapped resources to finance higher education.
The well-known activist was moved to action once he heard the inspiring story of the company’s founder, Christopher Gray. When The Upload caught up with Gray a few months ago, the Birmingham, Alabama native told us that he raised $1.3 million in scholarships to attend college — but finding the programs and awards required a lot of digging. That’s why he founded Scholly. The social enterprise mobile app was such a hit that he earned a spot on Shark Tank where he ultimately made big deal with super entrepreneurs/hosts Daymond John and Lori Greiner. To date the app has helped students identify, apply and win over $50 million in college scholarships and grants.
Now Williams wants to help bring the resources to the masses, so he’s signed on to the company’s advisory board and as Scholly’s Chief Brand Ambassador. “We are thrilled that Jesse Williams has joined our team. He understands the plight of those struggling to pay for college and why it’s vital to help them. His passion and educational background will help more students gain access to the funding they need to change their futures,” says Gray.
Williams shares Gray’s excitement about the joint venture. “I’m proud to announce that I’m joining the Scholly team in our mutual pursuit to help more young Americans pay for college,” he says. “There is no substitute for equal access — there is no substitute for a quality education. Scholly helps us get there, together.”
Williams talks to The Upload about his new partnership, diversity in the tech sector and more:
EBONY.COM: Why did you decide to work with Scholly?
Jesse Williams: Education is fundamental to our failure and success as a people. In both structure and content, public education is clearly in a state of disrepair. Quality education is kept out of reach for those with too much melanin and/or not enough money. Listing the problems doesn’t alter an additional truth: we are better off individually and collectively if more of us have the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Sky rocketing tuition is a dream-crushing obstacle. Scholly is a dream saving tool. People should have access and opportunity. This has much more to do with early exposure and awareness than decency in a hiring line. We’ll never get to the hiring line and certainly won’t get to the other side of that interview desk, if we’re not even aware these industries exists until a decade or two after our counterparts. Obviously, it is very important that people who don’t happen to be heterosexual, white and male are also able to walk through life and into opportunity with the most level playing field we can provide.
EBONY.COM: Why do we need to have more diverse perspectives in the tech space?
JW: You don’t have to build in tech to be a part of its excitement, innovation and growth. Just like you don’t have to build homes with your hands, to invest in real estate, or care about your fellow Americans to be a political commentator. My first foray into tech was as a collaborator in developing the Question Bridge mobile app. Our purpose was to create a safe and constructive space for black males to ask and answer questions with each other: to learn from each other, be innovative and self-reliant. Co-founding Ebroji was no different. Creative, cool culture drives social behaviors, language and social media trends. But it does it for free, on borrowed platforms, from the sidelines of the very market economy they created, or at least gave value to. We created Ebroji to reclaim our cultural point of view and demonstrate the value of authenticity in communication and representation. I take great pride in that product and the exposure these endeavors have given me, among other things they’ve led me to this particular solution opportunity: Scholly.
EBONY.COM: It seems like you’ve done a lot of investing in the tech sector. How can more Black folks get involved behind the scenes?
JW: Exposing ourselves to financial and creative opportunities brought on by investment is invaluable. It is a real time education with an intellectual and monetary value. Investing in tech is a terrific way to learn the vocabulary, spot trends, understand what has value, to whom and why. Seeing behind the curtain helps us decipher the difference between innovators and followers, between bullshit and game-changers, merit and mediocrity. There are cultural leaders and cultural followers, makers and consumers. Black folks and women are generally excellent at both, but compensated for neither. Exploring investment opportunities in tech, and/or any other industries that pique your interest, is critical to having an impact on the directions we go as a culture and industry. I’m learning and liking it.
In the following video, Williams and Gray talk more about joining forces and the benefits of Scholly.
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Senior Producer, EBONY.com