If anyone should feel entitled to Dr. Dre’s historic $35 million donation to USC, it’s me. A day after graduating from the University of Southern California, I packed up my belongings, thousands of dollars in debt, and moved back to Compton, California to live with my parents.
When I received an email from USC President Nikias inviting me to attend a “historic announcement,” I automatically assumed it had something to do with the #USChangeMovement he inadequately addressed a few days prior. Just the week before, hundreds of students had gathered at Tommy Trojan for an equally historic sit-in to protest the wrongful, racially motivated arrests and brutal treatment of minority students at an off-campus graduation celebration. Needless to say, I was not in the mood to celebrate anything other than dropped charges and LAPD officer firings at the time of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine’s $70 million announcement. I wasn’t even planning to address it until I came across Dr. Boyce Watkin’s article, “Dillard President Asks Dr. Dre Why He Gave $35 Million to USC and Not a Black College.”
While I am not entirely opposed to Watkin’s or Kimbrough’s article, I felt the need to address the overgeneralization of USC’s student body and utter disregard for what my school is doing to support its surrounding community. Two weeks ago, I attended the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative Annual Graduation Banquet where I watched 50 Black and Latino, USC admitted high school seniors receive impressive scholarships and awards. As I sat there, staring at the free filet mignon in front of me, I wondered why there were only 50 students graduating from the program. Surely, there are a thousand more neighborhood scholars that USC can afford to nurture, I thought. But I remained silent, emotionally exhausted from recent devastations, and decided to appreciate my school for all the good it has accomplished. However, despite the commendable Joint Educational Project, USC School for Early Childhood Education, NAI program, etc., there is no doubt that we can and should be doing a lot more. I say “we” because I, too, am USC.
In Dr. Watkin’s article, he echoes Kimbrough’s sentiments, but goes further in denouncing resourceful Black people for not giving back, USC for not helping its community and white people for having plenty of money and not spending it on people who don’t look like them. On top of the broad sweeping generalizations that severely weakened his argument, I took serious offense to the following line:
HBCUs have scholars working to solve these problems, and thousands of students who will graduate to fight for black America. USC does NOT.
As a recent graduate of a school with one of the most powerful Black alumni networks in the world, I beg to differ. Last Thursday, I watched hundreds of Black graduates walk the stage, many of whom have dedicated their lives to the advancement of their people in every way imaginable. I know writers, teachers, activists and musicians who have already done more for Black America than most merely desire to. While USC may not graduate thousands of Black scholars every year, the impact that Black USC alumni have made on society is indisputable.
Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, and Scandal, the first network drama to feature a female African American lead in almost 40 years, graduated from USC in 1994. Dr. Verna B. Dauterive, a Black USC alumna, donated $30 million to USC for an interdisciplinary social sciences building last February. She has “worked extensively in the California government on issues surrounding educational access and women’s equality and empowerment.” Isadore Hall (64th District CA Assemblymember representing Compton, Watts, Gardena, etc.) John Singleton. Ellis O. Knox. DeVon Franklin. Eric Burse. Forest Whitaker. Rikiesha Pierce. Ryan Coogler. Nate Howard. I could go on, but I don’t need to. It is a well-known fact that USC produces powerful leaders.
By suggesting that we don’t have thousands of Black graduates, which we happen to have, effectively fighting for Black America, Dr. Watkins also seems to be dismissing the national movement a group of USC students launched just a few weeks ago. As someone who has devoted an unhealthy amount of time, energy and effort to the #USChangeMovement, I am troubled by the fact that non-athletic Black students at predominately white institutions are still being overlooked.
For the last four years, I have worked closely with the USC Admissions Office to increase the number of Black and Latino faces on campus. I have partnered with the Black Student Assembly to host workshops that help inner-city high school seniors with college applications, personal statements, and financial aid. I have spent countless hours mentoring and tutoring children in local schools of all levels. I am very much aware of the work that needs to be done on and around my campus and am proud to say that my friends and I are doing it.
Yes, USC’s Black enrollment is far lower than what it needs to be, USC has yet to learn how to comprehensively support students of color, and yes, the gates need to be torn down immediately, but no one who has made an effort to research USC’s positive presence and impact in the surrounding community can claim that it doesn’t exist.
Instead of arguing over what Dr. Dre should have done with his hard earned cash, renowned scholars and leaders should be making a compelling case for why the next Black millionaire looking to plant a school should consider Howard over Harvard. Dr. Dre, as noted in “Gin and Juice,” is a businessman; and while it would be nice to see every successful Black person from the hood become a philanthropist, it’s a far-fetched request. If investing in Dillard University had been a better business move, I’m sure he would’ve made it.
Like Dr. Dre, I grew up nowhere near a HBCU. And when I finally do have enough money to build my own academy, I don’t plan to invest in one. (Don’t worry; I’ll have my own foundation.) If I ever do donate to my own alma mater, my money will go directly to the Black Alumni Association to provide scholarships to promising Black students, like me, who understand that social activism can and must exist outside of historically black institutions and industries.
I would absolutely love to see a HBCU make it into the U.S News & World Report Top 50 University Rankings within the next 3-5 years. Who’s to say that the combined endowments of all HBCUs can’t exceed USC’s in the next 10 years? Who’s to say that one Black endowment can’t?
To those who are troubled over the future allocation of Dr. Dre’s $35 million, trust that a group of socially conscious USC students, of all colors and classes, are here to make sure that the “full scholarships” to “kids from humble beginnings” promised by President Nikias are actually issued to those who need it most. In the meantime, if you believe that the school of your choice would have been a better home for the new academy, I encourage you to fundraise $70 million and start your own. Seriously, go do it!
I’m of the train of thought that if we don’t help ourselves, help won’t come. Unfortunately, that “we” can no longer be determined by skin color and postal codes. “We” consists of those who refuse to rest until every Black girl in America has access to a quality education and a father. It’s comprised of everyone who proves their devotion to the cause through tangible, unrelenting action.
I believe that every human, regardless of race, should feel obligated to uplift the less fortunate. This responsibility is more heavily enforced among historically oppressed peoples, and for good reason, but we must find a way to critique without condemning. We need Dr. Dre! Not for his money, but for his influence. Because of his contribution, little Black boys in South LA who never saw the point in obtaining a higher education are googling The Common App. Amateur GarageBand geniuses are realizing that their hip-hop dreams require more than the ability to create sick bass lines. A man straight outta Compton has $35 million worth of clout to suggest the removal of USC’s ever-encroaching gates and to demand an end to excessive police force and racial profiling in the surrounding areas. I don’t necessarily expect him to advocate for such causes, but I am determined to utilize my newest resource instead of dismissing him.
Welcome to the Trojan Family, Dr. Dre!