Monday, August 6, 2012

The Insider: Cheryl Harris, SVP of Allstate Talks Giving & Partnership with Tom Joyner Foundation

Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation Partnering to Raise $150,000 for Historically Black Colleges and Universities

By Tokiwa Smith
BlackGivesBack Contributor

Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation recently announced the fourth annual Allstate Quotes for Education program, which raises scholarship funds for students attending HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Here’s how the program works: For every person who receives an insurance quote from an Allstate agent and mentions ‘Quotes for Education’ between August 1 and Dec. 31, 2012, Allstate will donate $10, up to a total donation of $150,000. The funds will be donated to the Tom Joyner Foundation and earmarked for general scholarship funds to assist students attending HBCUs. Also, for the first time, participants will have a chance to vote for the HBCU of their choice to receive a separate $50,000 donation for scholarships specifically at that school.

BlackGivesBack spoke with Cheryl Harris, senior vice president of Allstate to learn more about the program and her own legacy of giving.

Harris grew up in the inner city of Chicago and credits scholarships from organizations like the Tom Joyner Foundation for helping her attain her degree. A graduate of Florida A&M University (FAMU), her experiences made her a champion for education and today, she mentors women-and-minority owned businesses.   Harris has 20 years of experience leading diverse, multinational procurement teams and prior to joining Allstate, she was most recently with Accenture LLP. She has been featured in Women’s Enterprise USA Magazine for her efforts with supplier diversity.

Cheryl Harris has achieved great success while demonstrating a continued commitment to programs like Quotes for Education that strengthen local communities by helping others achieve their goals.  Read on to learn how this partnership between Allstate and the Tom Joyner Foundation was created, and why it's important for corporations to support HBCUs.

How and why did Allstate get involved in this initiative?

Allstate began this initiative in 2009 to assist students at HBCUs because students across the board are having to leave school because of financial hardships, and are unable to complete their education. In order to be a good steward and support the African American community, it is important that we support initiatives like this.

How did your involvement with Quotes for Education begin?

I came to Allstate in March of 2011 and was excited to get involved with Allstate’s initiatives to support the African American community, including Quotes for Education. Being the face of this initiative allows me to continue to support my values of giving back, allows me to have a greater purpose outside of my regular role and do something that I am passionate about. In addition, as a FAMU alum, I have supported FAMU since I left the campus and am currently the campus executive.

Why do you give back to the community and support causes you're passionate about?

It is part of my DNA; I grew up in Chicago poor, but didn’t know I was poor, because I grew up in a community that was very giving. I was raised by a single mother most of my life and the values that she taught me she learned from my grandmother and great grandmother, which is part of why it’s so important to me to help those in need. I served on the board of the Teen Living Program, which supports the emotional and physical needs of homeless teens in Chicago. There are thousands of homeless youth in Chicago and about 50 percent of them are youth of color, some of which identify as LGBT. I believe that everyone deserves a fair chance to become a productive part of society and pursue their dreams.

I am also on the board of the Chicago Humanities Festival, an organization that brings the arts to the community and children to the arts. I am a benefactor of organizations like this because as a child I was fortunate enough to visit museums and see plays. The exposure to the humanities prevented me from being insular and allowed me to expand myself beyond my community.

Why do you think it is important for major corporations like Allstate to support HBCUs?

The demographics of the country and the global society are changing rapidly. HBCUs, since their creation, have provided African Americans, other minorities and students in general with opportunities to get a great education in a nurturing and caring environment. This is especially important for first-generation college students who need the nurturing environment these organizations provide. HBCU alumni have larger opportunities because they not only receive the technical skills but the social skills as well that are needed for successful careers in corporate America and the public sector. A Journal of Blacks in Higher Education survey of 37 HBCUs showed that the graduation rate of students has been declining since 2006, which is probably due in part to the current economic conditions.

If you are a business to consumer company, you need to have clients that you can sell your products to; therefore we need higher graduation rates. There are opportunities to understand how and why they can get involved in the pipeline. In addition to supporting colleges and universities, there is an opportunity for corporations to reach out to students far in advance of them going to college. Outreach can be done as early as grade school by helping them to achieve attainment at each educational level (grade to middle school, middle school to high school and high school to college), especially in African American communities.

Ways to get involved in the initiative:
  1. Visit the website, to get referred to an agent that can provide a quote or to receive a quote online
  2. Get a quote over the phone by calling 855-REP-HBCU
  3. Participate in the conversation on twitter by using the hashtag #REPHBCU
  4. Vote for your HBCU of choice to receive an additional $50,000 donation.

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