More than ‘Happy’ – ‘Bawling’ and ‘Gratefu’: A&T grad gets college debt paid off by singer Pharrell Williams | Education
GREENSBORO — “Happy” is one of Pharrell Williams’ big hits, but it doesn’t quite describe how young NC A&T Aggie feels these days paying off Damarius Davis’ student loans.
Davis was part of an NAACP panel on the subject of the black student debt crisis linked to Williams Something in the water festival, which took place in DC this year during Juneteenth.
When Davis and the other students or recent grads finished talking, they were told that Williams had a surprise for them.
“Overwhelmed,” Davis said of the moment. “I screamed. I started thinking about everything I went through in school. The sacrifices my parents made. I’m just so grateful.”
Davis, who is from the Raleigh area and graduated in May, worked three jobs in his freshman year and still had to borrow $35,000 to graduate in sociology with a minor in history.
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He is also the first in his family to go to university.
Aggie, 23, has a long history with the NAACP, starting with church-hosted events when he was 8 or 9 years old. He officially joined the NAACP when he went to college and is now the president of the Youth Civic Engagement and College Division of the North Carolina NAACP. He is also past president of A&T’s Sociology and Social Work Society.
During the discussion, Davis and the others talked about the burden of student debt.
“Pharrell changed their lives forever,” Wisdom Cole, NAACP National Director of Youth and Universities, said in a press release. “Student debt continues to disproportionately plague the black community and crush opportunity for so many black people.”
Cole and Williams have also called on President Joe Biden to heed calls to cancel student debt for this very reason. More than 43 million borrowers have federal student loan debt totaling more than $1.7 trillion, according to Educationdata.org.
Davis said there were no clues as to what would happen to him. He had seen the stories of graduate lecturers paying off their student debt.
“I never imagined it that way,” he said.
When Davis and the others finished speaking, the panel host told them their student debts were going to be paid off by the Grammy-winning musician and philanthropist, who composed the music for Hidden Figures (2016) and Despicable. Me (2010).
“The host said, ‘You talk about your life stories on national television – we thank you for telling your stories,’ he recalled. “And then, ‘We have a surprise for you.’ “
She then said Williams wanted to pay off her student debt.
“When she said ‘your college debt,’ my mouth dropped and we started looking at each other,” Davis said. “One of the girls whispered, ‘Am I getting fucked? Is this for real?'”
Williams then gathered them in a circle.
Davis wore a newly won “Proud Aggie Alumni” t-shirt.
“I’ve reviewed all of your profiles,” Williams told them. “I’ve seen everything you’ve done in the community.”
Davis said Williams gave them good advice on passing it on as well.
“He said you might have to start small, but be intentional in everything you do,” Davis recalled.
Davis had started a nonprofit during the pandemic which he later had to put on hold but is now looking to restart. He partnered with an organization his mother belonged to to give three students attending historically black colleges and universities over $200 for college essentials.
The first person Davis called was his mother.
“She was jumping up and down, screaming and screaming,” he said.
Then he called his father, who also became emotional.
“Hearing their voices – that made me even more emotional,” Davis said.
Due to the hiatus in student debt repayment, Davis had yet to reach a formal agreement, but he now knows firsthand why the NAACP is fighting for student loan forgiveness.
“It’s liberating,” Davis said.
Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.