Richard Stewart Jr. lives by the motto he learned at Clark Atlanta University: "Find a way or make one."
Clark is one of the 11 Historically Black Colleges and Universities supported by The United Methodist Church through its Black College Fund.
Stewart, a father of three who lives in Nashville, Tennessee, says that "no excuses" mentality has served him well in life.
"I know now that anything that I apply myself to I can be successful at and that directly comes from my experience at a (Black College Fund) school."
Coming from a tight-knit family with two generations of ministers, Stewart says The United Methodist Church has always been a big part of his life. It also played an important role when Stewart and his family moved to Nashville from Dallas when he was 15.
"My first year in Nashville was extremely unhappy. But, we visited churches and I went to Clark Memorial United Methodist Church where (now bishop) James King was pastor. And he was so hopeful and so joyous every Sunday. And I remember telling my parents, 'OK, well, whatever church you go to is fine, but as soon as I get my driver's license, I'm going to this church.'"
His whole family decided to join Clark Memorial UMC and Stewart got involved in the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.
"It was really, really what saved Nashville for me in a lot of ways … because I was able to be around, really, a whole bunch saints that, you know, just loved me."
Stewart says attending a historically black college wasn't initially in his plans. He intended to go to Southern Methodist University like his father and older sister.
"I was SMU to the core, and just knew that was where I was going, but I didn't get accepted. And I was really, really kind of in a funk about it."
That changed after he watched Spike Lee's "School Daze" and learned that the filmmaker had attended Clark in Atlanta. Stewart followed suit and says the experience changed his life.
"For me, going to a black college, the great thing was, no matter what, it was never because of my race. The teacher doesn't like me; at least it's not because I'm black. That girl doesn't want to go out with me; at least it's not because I'm black. I'm about to get in a fight with this dude; at least it's not because I'm black. And when you have four years of that no longer being your issue, you leave out, at least I did, mentally and spiritually and even physically stronger, because it's not weighing on you that this is that."
He says he would encourage African-American students, especially in today's climate, to consider attending a black college.
"I can't express how much that impacted me. And, look, I'm a guy that grew up in the suburbs. I mean, I am not a segregationist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do feel that being able to be in a situation where that's never on your mind is one of the most incredible gifts any and all black colleges give you."
Stewart says supporting the Black College Fund is one of the biggest investments the church can make in itself.
"From these schools, you're getting … educated clergy and laity that know how to help the church function on a higher level, and are contributing to the neighborhoods, to the communities that we're in. And that's ultimately what churches are supposed to do. The United Methodist Church's loyalty to the Black College Fund is both impressive and awe-inspiring."
Julie Dwyer, general church content editor, United Methodist Communications
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Black College Fund provides financial support to maintain solid, challenging academic programs; strong faculties; and well-equipped facilities at 11 United Methodist-related historically black colleges and universities. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Black College Fund apportionment at 100 percent.