There are two equally important components to the Abramson Scholarship Foundation program: scholarships and mentoring.
The Foundation grants scholarship awards to high school seniors graduating from District of Columbia public high schools who attend four year accredited colleges. Guidance counselors and other community organizations help identify likely candidates. Applicants for grants must demonstrate academic achievement, financial need and a commitment to community service. Scholars who continue to meet these criteria are eligible for additional subsequent financial grants during their college years.
In addition, each Abramson Scholar is assigned two mentors, one a relatively recent college graduate and another older professional person, often a member of the Board. Mentors serve as listeners, advisors, cheerleaders and friends to the Scholars, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. In short, they help the Scholars find their way to success.
Frederick B. Abramson was a distinguished member of the Washington legal community. He had a rich and varied legal career, during which he held a number of high profile positions, including the presidency of the District of Columbia Bar. Fred was highly respected in his field. More importantly, though, he had a highly developed sense of his profession’s responsibility to “give back.”
Upon becoming president of the D.C. Bar, he discussed his aspirations for his fellow Bar members.
[L]awyers have a unique responsibility as part of this profession to give something back. We are the leaders. We are very privileged…I think we need to give some of that back by way of help; monetary and actual help and assistance to people who are less fortunate…(District Lawyer, Sep./Oct. 1985, pp. 26-27)
Fred practiced what he preached. He was a role model, mentor and inspiration to many who knew him. Ultimately he was known as much for his mentoring and support of others as he was for his professional skills and acumen.
Fred grew up in Harlem and graduated from Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School. He never forgot the crucial role education played in his success, and he had a special concern for people seeking to pursue their dreams of higher education. He understood that when well-educated young people return to their community, they improve it – not just through their own success but by their participation in civic life.
After his untimely death in 1991, friends and colleagues sought to honor his memory and to establish a suitable memorial for him. They created the Frederick B. Abramson Memorial Foundation. In its original conception, the Foundation provided financial and mentoring support to graduates of DC public high schools during their first year of college. It also funded one-year Fellowships, which provided financial stipends to supplement the salaries of recent law school graduates who worked in legal fields that provided service to our community. The goal was to weave together many themes of Fred’s life – respect for higher education, promotion of mentoring to help young people achieve their goals, and encouragement to engage in community service.
For more about Fred’s life, click here.
Crisis and Renewal
As the economy faltered in 2008 and 2009, contributions to the Frederick B. Abramson Foundation diminished considerably. At this time, the Board considered a recommendation to close the Foundation. However, a significant minority of the Board felt the mission of helping deserving students was too important to abandon. Instead, a planning committee looked at ways of reshaping the Foundation’s program to maximize its beneficial impact on the community.
During this period of self-examination, the committee talked about Fred’s legacy. Members agreed that, while Fred was admired and respected for his professional activities, he was loved for his mentoring and friendship. And it was in his role as mentor that he had the greatest and longest-lasting impact on his community. This discussion caused the committee to rethink its relationship to its Scholars and the importance of the foundation’s mentoring support to the Scholar’s success in college and beyond.
As a result of these deliberations, the Foundation made a number of changes. In the interests of honing its mission, it decided just to focus on its college students; it ended the legal Fellowships. In addition, the Board changed the name to the Abramson Scholarship Foundation to reflect its new focus. Most importantly, though, the Foundation made two important changes that substantially improved its program.
First, starting in the 2011-2012 school year, the Foundation began giving out yearly scholarships that can, if a student continues to meet the scholarship criteria, be renewed each year – through all four years of college. Second, the Foundation decided to dedicate more resources to mentoring. Each Scholar now has two mentors, one relatively young who can offer the advice of someone who has recently “been there” as a college student, and a second who is generally more established and can provide a different viewpoint and set of experiences. The goal is to expose the Scholars to ways of thinking, problem solving skills and coping strategies that they may not have encountered previously.
Sense of Purpose
The Abramson Scholarship Foundation has a sense of purpose governed by the following principles:
- Higher education can increase social mobility for individuals whose circumstances pose daunting challenges;
- As more people within a community enjoy the benefits of higher education, they can raise the prospects for a better life for everyone else;
- Community service benefits not only those who are served but those who serve; and
- Mentoring, particularly of women and minorities, can significantly increase the likelihood of their educational and professional success.
These principles clearly guided Fred Abramson in his role as mentor and they continue to motivate the Foundation that was founded in his honor.
Why We Love What We Do
Abramson Scholarship Foundation Board members and mentors love participating in the Abramson community. By providing both financial aid and mentoring support to deserving young people, the Abramson Scholarship Foundation helps assure their success in college and beyond. This increases their social mobility and places them in a position to be leaders in their communities. This is an investment in the future. It is exciting to be part of this vehicle for change.
Historically, many Board members sought to join the Scholarship Committee, which assesses applications, conducts interviews, and selects scholarship recipients. Now more members are discovering that it is fun to mentor and interact on a regular basis with our Scholars. Board members, mentors, and other supporters of the Abramson Foundation all work towards the same goals: the educational and career success of the Scholars and the resulting benefits to the community that we all share.