CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It was a promise from a billionaire, to hundreds of new college graduates, heard across the country.
“My family is making a grant to eliminate their student loans,” Robert F. Smith told Morehouse College’s class of 2019.
The promise also echoed through the walls of Charlotte’s Headlines Barbershop.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that is just such a powerful thing for anybody,’” shop owner Season Bennett says. “So many students go into so much debt just trying to get an education.”
Inspired, Bennett called up the high school down the street, East Mecklenburg High School, wondering if money was keeping any students there, from walking across the stage.
“It seems like that’s just basic in our culture,” she says. “You need to get at least your high school diploma.”
Bennett learned 14 seniors there had unpaid fees with the school – a total of $4,500, which, per CMS policy, prevents all 14 from graduating.
“I just think about that quote by Martin Luther King when he says you don’t have to see the whole staircase, you just have to take the first step,” Bennett says.
So, she did.
The local business owner reached out to the community, asking for help. She didn’t know what the fees were for.
“I said, ‘You know what, we don’t deserve a lot of the blessings we get, but we get them anyway,’ so I said, ‘I don’t need to know what it’s for,’” Bennett says.
But she soon learned several of the teens owed money because of the band program.
“I know some people were thinking ‘Oh, maybe there was damaged property,’ or these kinds of things, and I said, ‘These kids are doing something good, they’re on the band, they’re having school spirit.’”
And soon, they had help from a familiar Charlotte face.
“Thomas Davis’ daughter saw it, and she told her dad about it,” Bennett says. “And he said, ‘You know what, whatever need you have left over, we’re going to make sure these students graduate.’”
That sparked a new call to the school, to let them know that now, these 14 seniors will graduate.
“One girl fell to her knees, and she said, ‘I have to call my mom,’” Bennett says. “She said her mom was working on getting a loan.”
CMS policy keeps each of these student’s identity hidden, but one, Bennett says, did send her a message. It reads in part, “Words cannot express how thankful I am of you all. I no longer have to worry and stress about graduating.”