Shiloh High alum pays it forward a la Robert F. Smith

Everton Blair (center), district 4 member of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, with other school officials smiles as he leaves after the Shiloh High School graduation ceremony at Gwinnett Infinite Energy Center on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Everton Blair, the first black and youngest member of the Gwinnett County Board of Education is also a graduate of Shiloh High School. At the graduation ceremony, he commemorated his 10 anniversary from the school by paying off any outstanding fines or fees that are keeping any of the graduates from receiving their diplomas. He also gave out three scholarships. "I may not be a billionaire," he said referencing Robert F. Smith's recent gift to Morehouse grads, "But every little bit helps." HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

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Everton Blair (center), district 4 member of the Gwinnett County Board of Education, with other school officials smiles as he leaves after the Shiloh High School graduation ceremony at Gwinnett Infinite Energy Center on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Everton Blair, the first black and youngest member of the Gwinnett County Board of Education is also a graduate of Shiloh High School. At the graduation ceremony, he commemorated his 10 anniversary from the school by paying off any outstanding fines or fees that are keeping any of the graduates from receiving their diplomas. He also gave out three scholarships. "I may not be a billionaire," he said referencing Robert F. Smith's recent gift to Morehouse grads, "But every little bit helps." HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Less than a week after billionaire Robert F. Smith announced that he will pay off student loans for the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, another man took up the mantle to pay it forward. Everton Blair Jr., the first black member of the Gwinnett County School Board and the youngest board member ever, said he wanted to make the Shiloh High School graduation ceremony special.

“I graduated from this school ten years ago to the day,” he told the 500-plus graduates of Shiloh High School on Wednesday afternoon.

Elected in 2018 for the District IV seat, this was the first time he participated in the graduation ceremonies of his alma mater. He announced that his family established a fund to pay off all student debt.

“I may not be a billionaire, but lunch balances shouldn’t stand in their way,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an exclusive interview before he made the announcement.

His remark didn’t elicit the cheers Smith’s declaration got; in fact, there was some laughter. Who has debt on a public school education?

Although it’s nothing like student loans for college, high school debt does exist.

Public school students can rack up debt for school fees such as senior dues, fines for books, instruments or computers that have been lost or damaged, library fines and fees for band, sports, clubs and other extracurricular activities.

“We work those things out before graduation,” said Gwinnett County spokeswoman Sloan Roach. “Nobody is kept from graduating because they owe the school.”

She added that often the amounts are so small that they don’t produce a major collections effort.

Since Blair had sprung the announcement on the unsuspecting school staff, the exact amount of student debt wasn’t available at press time.

Another aspect of the Blair family generosity, which was expected, is a scholarship established in his sister’s name.

Courtney S. Blair, also a Shiloh alum, would have graduated from Harvard University this spring. She died unexpectedly in July while away at school.

“She was a ceiling breaker, she was somebody who lifted up others as she climbed, she just defied the odds in every imaginable way,” Everton Blair said in an interview for The Harvard Crimson last year. “If you told her something couldn’t be done, she was going to prove to you after the fact that it could be done, after she had done it.”

While at Shiloh, she lettered in four varsity sports, served as a student leader in her community and graduated as salutatorian of her class. She and her brother talked about starting their own Fortune 500 business.

Three graduates from Shiloh and two from other Gwinnett schools will each receive $1,000 in three areas: The Courtney S. Blair Women in Business Scholarship (Khiari Ridley), Outstanding Excellence in Athletics and Academics Scholarship (Robert Cranston and Mark Minh Tran, Dacula High), and Student Leadership Scholarship (Yasmina Al-Aboudy and Gabriela Maduro Salvarrey, Peachtree Ridge High).

Related story: Morehouse commencement speaker pays students' loans

Related story: Many hope Morehouse gift has ripple effect

Related story: Gwinnett BOE has first member of color


Information about The Courtney S. Blair scholarships: https://gcps-foundation.org

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