Johnny C. Taylor & the Thurgood Marshall College Fund

Upon entering the headquarters of the Thur­good Marshall College Fund (TMCF) you can im­mediately understand why it is among the best companies to work for. It’s hard to believe that an office suite filled with laughter, sarcasm, and positive energy could ever have a dull moment. As an outsider you are immediately embraced as a part of their family. Make no mistake; even with all the dynamic personalities and colorful conversation, everyone is hard at work for the cause of education, opportunities, and com­munity reform. The Thurgood Marshall College fund is a national organization supporting 47 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Leading the pack is Johnny C. Taylor Jr. Trial lawyer turned CEO, Taylor is now President of the non-profit organization (TMCF). After years of practicing law, Johnny C. Taylor ran the HR division of Barry Dillard (husband to designer Diane Von Furstenberg). He then headed IAC Interactive Corp, a holding company representing names such as Match.com and the Home Shopping Network. From there Taylor became CEO of one of the IAC divisions. Taylor was then tapped to head the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Taylor accepted the offer with a goal in mind to transition back to Corporate America. In addition, Taylor is continuing his passion for community outreach and changing the lives of young Americans.

HBCUs as a whole are experiencing financial constraints nationwide. Non-profit organizations supporting HBCUs are subsequently feeling the effects. When asked why he chose such a challenging positon, Taylor replied, “I like to fix things. I’m a turnaround guy.” He analyzed the “problem” at hand and dove in headfirst to solve it. Some may say that Taylor is an unusual suspect for the job. For starters, he has never attended an HBCU. What critics don’t take into account is his love and dedication to the African-American community. Taylor explains, “Even though I have never attended an HBCU, I care. I care so deeply. I want to use all of my experience to help the broader African-American community.”

When identifying the biggest gap between career-bound African-Americans and their peers Taylor believes the problem begins before college. “It’s about college readiness. All 18-year-olds struggle, but it makes it more difficult when we are not prepared.” The Thurgood Marshall College Fund is not just a fundraising organization. The team works hard to create programs to help students with factors that will make them successful in the long run. The program targets three major areas: (1) Financial literacy (2) Academic preparedness and (3) Rules Written and Unwritten. The last is critical because first generation college students face transitional issues, such as study habits and social pressures, that parents may not be aware of and thus cannot prepare their children for it. The organization stands by the motto “In Locol Parentus” or “In Place of Parents”.

According to the organization, 70 percent of students are not academically prepared for college. This affects HBCU beginning with their graduation rates and consequently affects their funding. The argument is that college readiness begins at Pre-K. While that may require an education system adjustment, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund has jumped right in to do its part. The organization has initiated programs in Dixburg, Mississippi and Baltimore, Maryland to prepare 6th graders with the tools necessary to be successful in college and beyond. This pilot program will evaluate the effects of preparing college bound scholars at an early age in both urban and rural areas. The program will capture financial training, tutoring, and social preparedness.

For college students, TMCF partnered with Apple Inc. who not only gave a generous donation to the organization but also chose 32 TMFC students to join the Apple team in Silicon Valley in an enriching internship next year. This is encouraging as the technical oasis (Silicon Valley) has been scrutinized for its lack of diversity. “All people want to do is to point out the wrong. That may be well intended and appropriately so. My thing is then fix it. Go to them and say ‘you don’t have enough diversity let me help you with this’”, says Taylor. That’s exactly what they did at TMCF.

Johnny C. Taylor is all about solutions calling himself a “solutions based guy”. Taylor has a niche for identifying problems, presenting the problem, and finding solutions for that problem. This is the foundation when raising money for students. “I don’t come with slavery and oppression. I’m all about solutions whether business or social”. It helps that Taylor has a charming and captivating personality, which was hard to miss at the 2015 TMCF Gala. “You have to consider, in one night I have to appeal to both wealthy conservatives and 18 year old college students. I have mastered the art of persuasion but it’s something I have to work at. I practice speeches and I am very careful about my words. Part of it is the trial lawyer in me.”

When it comes to fundraising, Johnny C. Taylor seems to have no fail rate. In 2015, the organization raised over 5 million dollars in one night. This is a record high for the organization which raised 3.5 million last year. Many call Taylor a Honey Badger because of his determination. “I am not going to lose. I won’t let anything get in my way. I run through walls and I am so competitive. Where I may not be smarter I will out work you! My driving force is pure determination,” he continues.

Taylor has been commonly asked if he had fallen short to assimilation (conforming for corporate culture). His message is simple. “As Black people we often have many sides to our family. When I interact with my family I may assimilate based on the environment. There are some places, such as in church, where I am more conservative or with my craps brothers where I can be more relaxed. We assimilate based on the context of the social setting. We do it every day. The difference is that I get paid to do it for my job. I don’t define myself so simply. That case has been overplayed in our community. We can often take so much for granted.

Learn more about the Thurgood Marshall College Fund here.

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