BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – A scholarship in Louisiana is helping to close the gap in education and enhancing the collegiate experience for a specific group of men.

According to The Postsecondary National Policy Institute, only 34% of Black males complete their bachelor’s degree within six years.

“I’ve watched so many Black males that I know go down the wrong road. Like, I’m in college and they’ll call me like ‘Aye bro you still in college?’ Like yeah, bro! I’m chasing my degree,” said Lance Jones, Reginald F. Lewis Cohort 1 Scholarship recipient.

Out of the 92,000 students in the University of Louisiana System, two Black men from each of the nine campuses are chosen to be a part of a program that could forever change the trajectory of their lives.

“Everything that we do in the system is driven by data, but those data elements all represent individual stories and that’s the connection we draw,” said Jim Henderson, president and CEO of the University of Louisiana System.

Data shows that Black males are at the bottom of the totem poll when it comes to higher education. This is where the recipient of the Reginald F. Lewis Scholarship comes into play.

“I saw a diverse group of young men and a seemingly homogenous group that came from different backgrounds, different experiences. Have different interests, different skill sets, and I thought, ‘What a rich repository of talent that deserves to be developed,'” said Henderson.

Jones is a part of the first cohort. He hopes his experience will not only inspire the next generation of scholars but change the narrative for Black men.

“Guys that I look as great or supposed to be performers, they can perform as far as athletically but when it comes to school work that’s where they lose out. That’s where they drop the ball,” said Jones.

Jones says he hasn’t always been the strongest student in the class, but his hard work and dedication make up for it.

“But I would ask them, like they freshmen in college, high school, and I would say ‘What you thinking about for college?’… ’Awe man that’s three years away.’ Naw, you need to be thinking about this now. Because this is your future and before you know it, it’s done,” said Jones.

Henderson says taking control of your own destiny is the essence of the program. 

“What they’re realizing of their own potential. And that’s what we really exist to do. Is to help individuals realize their potential to become self-determining owners of their economic and their social capital of their future,” said Henderson.

The Reginald F. Lewis Scholarship Program is named after one of the richest Black men in America. Lewis grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, but he developed strong ties in New Orleans. The businessman felt it was only right to start the scholarship fund in Louisiana.

Now, Henderson says the goal is to expand the program outside the Louisiana border.

“And the more people that become familiar with the program. The more they want to be heavily evolved because they see it’s making a difference,” said Henderson.

For Jones, obtaining his degree is setting an example for his people, community and future legacy.

“I broke the native to say I’m finishing this. So that way my kids no. My son know, my daughter know — Dad finished college. Mom finished college so like let’s see the – let’s see the results come in.”

Henderson says the scholarship program is more than just funding for college courses. It’s also about networking, relationships and experiences.

The group plans to travel abroad to Paris during the spring 2023 semester.

Scholars are chosen by their respective universities. Entry into the program includes a full-ride scholarship from sophomore to senior year.