Hundreds Gather to Say Goodbye to Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund

Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund founder Susie Kay is flanked by staff members Lester Davis, left, and Theo Brannum. Both are former recipients of the fund's scholarships and H.D. Woodson graduates.
Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund founder Susie Kay is flanked by staff members Lester Davis, left, and Theo Brannum. Both are former recipients of the fund's scholarships and H.D. Woodson graduates. (By Timothy Wilson -- The Washington Post)
By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 8, 2009

The past few months have not been easy for Susie Kay. In June, the board of directors of the Hoop Dreams Scholarship Fund, which she founded in 1996, decided to shut down operations by next month because scholarships beyond the 2009-10 academic year could not be guaranteed.

With dwindling financial resources, the fund is another casualty of the economy.

But that did not stop hundreds of former students, volunteers and sponsors from gathering last Thursday at the Historical Society of Washington in Northwest to pay their final respects to an organization responsible for providing more than 900 students with college scholarships.

As the attendees entered the building, many offered Kay a hug or a kiss on the cheek. She smiled and thanked each one.

"We didn't want this to unravel," Kay said to the gathering. "The spirit will live on. The impact will live on."

The fund has partnered with the D.C. College Access Program to fulfill the remaining scholarships for 210 students through the spring.

Participants in the fund during the 2008-09 school year who were awarded an academic scholarship for the 2009-10 school year will receive their full award amounts. College students who were awarded a renewal scholarship for the 2009-10 academic year will also receive their full awards.

The fund has also partnered with the United Negro College Fund to create the Susie Kay Legacy Fund to support students from D.C. high schools with an opportunity to achieve a college education.

"These past couple of years have not been easy," said board member Frank K. Ross, director of accounting education at Howard University Business School and a former managing partner at KPMG. "Hoop Dreams has done so many wonderful things and helped so many people, we wanted to preserve that."

Pamela Birch, who began volunteering as a mentor with the fund in 2006, said she will do her part to continue the legacy by giving support to the college students she mentors. "I'm not giving up on my students," she said. "I want to be able to see them through" college.

Kay said she was inspired by the 1994 documentary "Hoop Dreams," which tracks African American youths from economically deprived families in Chicago as they pursue their dreams of playing professional basketball. The critically acclaimed film vividly explores issues of race, economics and society's values.

"Arthur Agee reminded me of so many of my students," Kay said of one of the film's central characters.

Students such as LaRue Purry. The former H.D. Woodson football player, who graduated in 2003, called the ceremony "bittersweet."

"I wouldn't have had the funding to go to college without these people," said Purry, who attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "It exposed me to a whole new world the first year down there."

Kay began teaching U.S. government at H.D. Woodson in 1990. As a white woman teaching at a predominantly black high school, Kay said, she wanted to "confront an extraordinary paradox" in the District -- a city divided by race, power and economic resources.

She organized a day-long 3-on-3 basketball tournament, pitting public high school students, lawmakers and businessmen against one another to raise money for college scholarships. The first tournament attracted 32 teams and raised enough money to award four scholarships, totaling $3,000.

"When we keep trying to find the best in each other, we're so much better off," she said. "We've got to do better."


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