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Actor Jesse Williams has been a fierce advocate for social justice, and equity and the Chicago native is putting the focus on ensuring that higher education is accessible. Williams has teamed up with the platform Scholly to create a scholarship initiative for students in need.

The award-winning actor and the digital scholarship platform have launched the Pay it Off Fund to eradicate student loan debt for scholars facing financial obstacles. Through the Fund, four students will receive up to $25,000 to go towards education expenses. Research shows that 43.4 million borrowers have federal student loan debt, and the burden disproportionately impacts individuals from low-income communities.

Cognizant of the disparities and witnessing the inequities while serving as an educator, Williams was prompted to take action.

“Good students unable to continue their education simply because of money is a tragic reality that impacts us all,” he shared in a statement. “Our students deserve access to education, information and the opportunities they afford despite the tax bracket they were born into.”

Scholly founder and CEO Christopher Gray added the company and Williams have a shared mission of empowering youth through education.

“Jesse truly understands the plight of those struggling to pay for college and why it’s vital to help them,” said Gray. “His passion and educational background will help more students gain access to the funding they need to change their futures.” The Pay it Off Fund is accepting applications through July 1. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Scholly has distributed $2.5 million to scholars in need.

Many efforts have been made to level the playing field in higher education. Businessman and philanthropist Robert F. Smith donated $15 million to his alma mater Cornell University to create scholarships for underserved and underrepresented students who are charting paths in engineering. “My goal has always been to lift up and provide opportunity for those who have historically faced barriers to success,” said Smith.


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