Freedom scholarship founder recalls creating first UCM African-American scholarship

The Freedom Scholarship is awarded every year at the University of Central Missouri in conjunction with the university and its alumni foundation. The scholarships are awarded at the Freedom Scholarship Dinner, an event hosted by the university where proceeds are used to fund the scholarships. Arthur D. Kemp, associate professor of psychological science at UCM, helped create the scholarship.

Colby Crowder: When was the Freedom Scholarship Fund founded?

Arthur Kemp: It was the fall semester of 1994 that I found out during a faculty meeting that there were no scholarships for African American students at this university and that the university had no plans to initiate one. That concerned me in the light of the fact that there were other universities in the state that had scholarships for black students, including MU (University of Missouri).

CC: How was funding originally provided for the award?

AK: I was president of the Association of African American Faculty and Staff, which was something that I started. I brought the information (about the scholarship) to the association and as a result I asked if anyone wanted to stand with me to start a scholarship fund for African American college students here at the university and they did. We raised $40 that day and established the Dr. Martin Luther King Scholarship.

CC: How did you and your organization grow the funding for the scholarship?

AK: We had to come up with a way to generate funds for the scholarship, so Dr. Zinna Bland came up with the idea of a dinner. Then the first dinner to raise money for the scholarship was in January 1996. Shirley Briscoe came up with the idea of the gospel program, so we had the program and the scholarship dinner. Two separate programs and they are still to this day two separate events.

CC: How has the event grown since the initial planning?

AK: The university president would host a luncheon on that day (when the Freedom Scholarship was awarded) for faculty and invited faculty and guests to that luncheon. The president, Ed Elliott, came to our first dinner and he donated the first check. He was the first donor for the scholarship outside of the members of the Association of African American Faculty and Staff. He gave me a check and that is how it started.

CC: What was the initial award for the scholarship?

AK: The first year that we gave the scholarship was 1997. We gave $100 to three undergraduate African American students. Three or four years after that, we (the Association of African American Faculty and Staff) disbanded and Dr. Elliott gave the approval for the university to take over generating funds for the scholarship. That’s when the university administration started running it and getting in larger corporations. By 2000, they started bringing in corporations as donors.

CC: Who typically speaks at the scholarship dinner?

AK: One year, we got Sodexo and a major owner in Sodexo. Magic Johnson came here courtesy of Sodexo and he was our speaker. Recently, like over the past four years, the university has gotten away from bringing in outside speakers and turned to inviting graduates of UCM. These were people who graduated from UCM, normally who were African Americans, not necessarily people who received the scholarship, but people who are African American who are out there being successful.

Dr. Arthur D. Kemp will be speaking at the Community Gospel Program.

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