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April 25, 2013



On May 11, 2013, Birmingham Alabama native Gavette Richardson becomes the inaugural leader in a scholarship legacy created by Howard University Trustee and former Birmingham resident Robert L. Lumpkins, the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship.  Richardson was a student at John Carroll Catholic High School (JCHS) in her hometown, where she says, “I was really fortunate to go to John Carroll in the first place because it’s a college preparatory school where they start off in the 10th grade talking about where you’re going to college…if not a four-year school then you have to have an idea for a trade or other vocation…you’re going to prepare for a career of some kind period.”

photos by Justin Knight


The counselor at Carroll, Ms. BeBe Kok, “is very hands-on and once you meet with her,” recalls Gavette, “she’s giving you information and continual follow-up.”  Richardson was planning to attend college in her state, “probably go to a school about three hours distance, so I would be away from home, but still close enough to visit regularly and help my mom with my older brother who has low-scale autism.”  Ms. Kok had other ideas.  She began talking to Richardson about a recently established scholarship at Howard University by a John Carroll alumni named Robert L. Lumpkins, an HU Trustee.  Richardson said, “In my case, I just didn’t necessarily have the highest GPA or ACT scores but I think it was the sense that Ms. Kok knew I had a greater potential…she saw that in me and pushed me a little harder…”  Initially shocked by the thought of going to Howard, Richardson recalls saying, “Howard?  That’s that school all the way up in DC…wait a minute Ms. Kok, DC, seriously?”  “Yes, Yes,” Ms. Kok responded, “I think you should apply and go for it.”  Richardson said her impression was that “Howard was this Ivy League school with all these really smart people, but I  began considering the idea.”

She learned all the details of Lumpkins’ decision to launch the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship, a four-year need-based fund at Howard for an Alabama resident or graduate of an Alabama high school, with preference given to persons from the greater Birmingham area and/or a good candidate from JCHS.  Then, Trustee Lumpkins arranged for her to meet another Alabama native at Howard, Attorney Artis Hampshire-Cowan, Senior Vice President and Secretary of the University.  Richardson talked with Mobile native Hampshire-Cowan and visited the campus with her mother at the time of the historic 2009 Presidential Inauguration.  After meeting Secretary Hampshire-Cowan, Richardson said, “I knew I wasn’t alone in being from Alabama, and then she arranged for other Alabama students to talk with me about the University.  I started to realize it wasn’t as far as I had initially thought, just two hours by plane and so it became a real possibility in my mind.”

Richardson recalls walking across the stage at her JCHS graduation and shaking the hand of the Archbishop, and her next thought was, “I think I’m going to Howard.”  She announced her decision to Mama Yvette Richardson after the ceremony.  Gavette said, “So I took a leap of faith and stepped out into the staircase without seeing all the steps, and it has been the best experience all around.”

Trustee Robert L. Lumpkins recalled some thoughts which led to establishing the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship. “Frankly, some of this grows out of having lived in Birmingham in the late 50s and 60s; we moved away in 1966. I was there in the ugliest days but not really a part of it all…you couldn’t help but be affected; it was in the paper every day. I looked back on my own path and I was always going to go to college…my mother’s a college graduate, my father was in college before World War II…it was a given.  I was fortunate to come out of JCHS with scholarship opportunities to some good places—MIT, Notre Dame, Rice University—and I ended up at Notre Dame, otherwise I would have probably gone to a school in Alabama. The college experience opened up the world and gave me opportunities to meet different kinds of people and do different things.  I met my wife, who attended a nearby school in Indiana; and going away to university just made a big impact, changing the course of my life when I got out and was trying to figure out what to do.  I received financial aid to attend Stanford University Graduate School of Business (where he earned an MBA degree), which gave me another big boost.” 

He continued, “I remember working construction a couple of summers, hauling around concrete blocks, and I was a college student who knew I wouldn’t be doing this forever.  The guys working with me were Black laborers who were going to be doing it for a lifetime; they knew it and so did I…so I said to myself there but for the Grace of God goes me, which brings me back to Howard.  It’s part of the reason I became a Trustee because I felt this University is an institution worth supporting.”     

Currently the Chairman of the HU Board of Trustees Finance Committee and member of the Executive, Development, and Real Estate Committees,  Lumpkins was appointed to the Board in 1999 and is the current Chairman of the Board of The Mosaic Company in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  A past Vice Chairman of Cargill Incorporated where he began his career in 1968, he served in a succession of line and financial management positions until his retirement in 2006. He said, “Being a Howard trustee is both an opportunity to contribute to the governance of a vital national institution, and an opportunity to learn about the promise and challenges of the African American experience in the 21st century.  It is a privilege to serve.”

Now fast-forward to the 2000s and Trustee Lumpkins and his wife discussed their principal philanthropic interest—to provide college opportunities for high school graduates who might not otherwise have the resources or to provide the financial means for some individuals to enroll in better colleges than their personal resources could support. Since the Lumpkins’ creation of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship, they have recently also become financial patrons of the newly created HU Bridging the Gap campaign.  “One of the great tragedies at Howard,” Lumpkins offered, “is the student who gets halfway through his sophomore or junior year and can’t afford to finish for financial reasons.  He or she now has debts and won’t be able to complete their education and have the earning power to pay it off.  So my wife and I think it’s especially important to support these kids and help them over that last hurdle.”  

Richardson commented on “what an honor and a privilege it’s been to be the first from John Carroll to receive the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship.  As she graduates from the University, fellow Birmingham native Evan Hutchinson will prepare to enter his sophomore year at Howard as the second recipient of this award.  Gavette said, “One of the coolest things is that Mr. Lumpkins really cares about us…he’s not just putting money in an account; from day one he has met with me every time he’s on campus for Board meetings; he will call and keep in touch through email. So I always know I can go to him for advice or to just discuss things…and the same with Mrs. Hampshire-Cowan and Mrs. Bernice Jones in the Office of the Secretary.  Most of the students I know on scholarship have never met the donor much less talked with them. I feel especially blessed in this regard, and I know he is genuinely interested in my success.”

Richardson may have had some initial reservations about coming to Howard, but once here, she has made a name for herself all over the campus and the nation.  The details of her activities and outreach over these last four years at Howard would have to be a separate article to be inclusive, but here’s a look at some of them.  First of all, she’s a Broadcast Journalism major and Political Science minor; a member of the Lambda Pi Eta Communications National Honor Society, the Golden Key International Honor Society and Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities. 

She became an HU Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel Assistant as soon as she reached campus and has served all four years including as First Vice President her junior year. The Howard Debate Team had not been active in years when Richardson came in 2009.  She joined and graduates as Co-Captain of the HU Speech and Debate Team and was the lone female until this semester.  Without question, she is the Team’s standup, standout leader in oratory.  In debates with Yale as a sophomore and Harvard as a senior, Richardson's name went out across the world on Twitter after the Harvard Debate. Teammates and Howardites agree she may be petite in size but confidence, intelligence and voice reign supreme. 

A mentor in The Future Project of Washington, DC since 2011, Gavette has volunteered weekly in service to an urban public school student throughout the academic year. In addition to summer travel study abroad to Egypt and Greece and work at WBRC Fox News, WIAT CBS 42 New and the Mayor’s Office Youth Services Division—all in Birmingham, she has spent a minimum of 16 hours a week during the school year since 2011 as an Intern in the Executive Office of the President of the United States of America, Office of Management and Budget in the Division of Management and Operations, supporting ten employees in a variety of tasks.  For two years she served as Director of Student Advocacy for the School of Communications Student Council, and of course for the Alabama Club she was President and Vice-President.  Her latest endeavor is as a newly-made member of Alpha Chapter—Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

Richardson is profoundly grateful for the opportunities and experiences afforded her as the recipient of the Alabama Opportunity Scholarship, and what a difference it has made in her life.  She shared, “Mr. Lumpkins always tells me he doesn’t want anything back from giving me the scholarship, but to make sure I give back to someone else that comes behind me…I think that’s the most important aspect I’ll remember.  Whatever I do, I feel I will be successful in life, I claim that and I will make sure I am able to do for others what he has done for me.”  Two other crucial lessons she’s learned from Trustee Lumpkins are— “To dream big and not to settle or limit myself, and to make certain I stay true to myself…never forgetting where I came from; I’ve definitely learned that from him not forgetting his roots in Birmingham.  I have a lot of guardian angels here at Howard, and I thank God every day for them.”

By far, Gavette Richardson is one of Howard’s star graduates, who is just beginning to make her mark in the world.  Her immediate plans are to attend law school and actually practice law, and to eventually open an educational center for individuals with autism.  Remember her name!


Laura Harris-Hurd