Debts between $100 and more than $3,000 stood between 34 Howard University seniors and graduation. Unless the debts, for things like tuition and fees, were paid, the students likely wouldn't receive their diplomas from the historically black university in Washington, DC. Then Alfred Street Baptist Church stepped in. The historic black church, founded in 1803 in Alexandria, Va., has long-standing ties to historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and thanks to money raised by its members—60% of whom are estimated to have graduated from HBCUs—it paid off the debts of all 34 students. "It was overwhelming," one student, who works and raises her young son in addition to attending school, tells NPR. "The fact that I don't have to worry about it is definitely a weight lifted off my shoulders."
The church's 8,000 members pledged to do a "financial fast" in January, abstaining entirely from things like sweets and alcohol and only spending money on essential items. Then they donated the money they'd saved: $150,000. Two-thirds of that sum went to the Howard students; another $50,000 went to Bennett College, one of just two remaining historically black women's-only colleges, in Greensboro, NC. "I thought, 'What better way to celebrate Black History Month than investing in the young, black heroes of HBCUs?'" an assistant minister tells the Washington Post. Adds the church's pastor, "These 34 students are going to change the world, and we're just glad to be part of their resume." (Read more uplifting news stories.)