Talley & Twine CEO Randy D. Williams and COO Eric Heyward enjoy a day in Europe. Photo credit: Talley and Twine Press

Albany State University alumni, heads of Black-owned watch company, gift HBCU with $10,000 scholarship

Like Talley & Twine founders, gifting your alma mater matters to growing HBCU alumni entrepreneurs who leave a legacy of lifting up those who come after them.

The heavy burden of college tuition for Black students just got a little lighter thanks to watchmakers giving back to an institution that helped form their business savvy. In the words of the Talley & Twine tagline, “It’s time to make your mark!” Talley & Twine CEO Randy D. Williams and COO Eric Heyward did just that when they returned to their alma mater, Albany State University. During homecoming week, Williams and Heyward presented the HBCU with $10,000 in scholarship funds.

The Talley & Twine Scholarship will be awarded each fall semester in increments of $2,500 to undergraduates who maintain a 2.0-grade point average or better. Students pursuing business who can demonstrate financial need are encouraged to apply. 

Also, top-performing learners hailing from Williams or Heyward’s hometowns of Savannah and Camilla in Georgia will be given special consideration. Undoubtedly, their efforts aided the university in raising $1.1 million in 2021, and will directly benefit students enrolled in their college of business undergraduate program.

“ASU afforded us life-changing opportunities and left an indelible mark on our lives,” shared Williams. “Paying it forward is always the goal! Such a pleasure to invest in our future leaders!” Heyward added.

Talley & Twine promotes HBCUs through their brand. Proud alumni of a Georgia HBCU, the pair’s company name is an ode to two streets in Virginia, to show how roses can grow from concrete. Photo credit: Talley and Twine Facebook

Indeed, the university maintains its tradition of paying it forward originally handed down by its founder and author, Dr. Joseph Winthrop Holley. In 1903, Holley felt convicted to open the institution after reading W.E.B Dubois’ writings regarding the inadequate educational system of Black Americans. For 14 years–and without receiving a cent in state funding–the university provided underserved students with religious and industrial education. 

In the years since, the school has built upon said foundation and expanded the subject matter offered to students. In addition to its popular business and education programs, the university has well-known nursing and science curricula, as well as criminal justice courses of study.

Today, there are quite a few alumni who make it a point to return and contribute to the university in any way that they can. In addition to serving as a family nurse practitioner for Optum UnitedHealth group, Dr. Tamara Davis thought it not robbery to return to her beloved HBCU to work as an adjunct professor

“I love my HBCU and have been able to give back as a nursing professor there and by donating financially,” stated Davis.

Equally significant are the contributions of Entercom morning news anchor, Dr. Maria Boynton. The Georgia Association of Broadcasters 2021 Inductee always represents her HBCU by coming back to drop seeds of encouragement to undergrads, as well as participating in recruiting events.

“I think of it as an ecosystem,” expressed co-founder of the Black Coffee Co. and Xavier University of Louisiana graduate Jamin Butler. “It’s on us now to make sure the soil stays rich by making sure the next generation has as many resources as they need,” Butler told Ark Republic.

For Morgan State University HBCU alum Kel Spencer, it is about “Making predecessors and ancestors proud [as well as] being on the right side of history.” “[Plus] it’s the right thing to do,” he continued. After graduating in 2014, Spencer went on to birth PlayTime Worldwide, Pens of Power along with Keleidoscope Multimedia.

‘Tis the season 

In addition to their largesse, the ASU Foundation emboldened postgraduates with class years ending in zero to six to pledge a donation for the Golden Ram Tuesday of Giving. This year, over $49,000 was raised. The funds are available to students who demonstrate financial need as well as those eligible for scholarships. 

“Even in a challenging year, our alumni, supporters, and over 700 new donors, which included over 250 new alumni donors supported our students through giving. We are appreciative of the generosity,” said Vice President of Institutional Advancement and ASU Foundation Executive Director A.L. Fleming.

Recognized as the number one public HBCU in Georgia, ASU was not the only institution fortunate enough to have alumni donate. Florida A&M University (FAMU) alum and film producer, Will Packard recently returned with a Performing Arts Amphitheater as a gift. 

“I hope this accomplishment serves as an inspiration for future generations of FAMUans who will know the success I achieved has its foundations in the same halls, classrooms and dorms where they reside,” stated Packer.

Likewise in an act of generosity, popular talk show host Oprah bequeathed $2 million to her old alma mater Tennessee State University, which was largely affected by the pandemic.

All-star basketball player Michael Jordan was also moved by the spirit of giving when he donated $1 million to Morehouse College. “Education is crucial for understanding the Black experience today,” he noted.

| Watch the podcast: From Black farmers to reparations to HBCUs

Be that as it may, the truth is HBCUs could use a lot more alumni sharing their wealth. Resource inequities continue to plague both public and private HBCUs experiencing a downturn in federal funding. Their endowments are far behind those of non-HBCUs by at least 70 percent. 

For many students, loan debt is a heavy burden. A great deal of them are low-income and the first in their families to attend college. Therefore, they must borrow at higher rates. Consequently, HBCU undergraduates leave with substantially higher debt than non-HBCU learners, making it difficult for them to give a hand up after graduation.

“Don’t continue with this idea that HBCUs have been able to make bricks out of straw for so long that you continue to give us straw,” protested President of Shaw University, Dr. Paulette Dillard. 

Unintentionally, COVID-19 has shown policy options once deemed off the table are indeed possible. Notably, over 20 HBCUs were able to eliminate part or all of students’ tuition and fees via federal pandemic stimulus money. Albany State University received over $2.5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Eligible students received a grant in the amount of $645 for the 2019-2020 year.

“When the finances occurred from Congress in the Coronavirus stimulus packages that allow institutions the ability to pay off student debt and student fees, HBCUs stepped up to the plate,” said Lodriguez Murray, senior vice president for public policy and government affairs at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF).

Humble beginnings

Much like HBCU students haggling over loan debt, Williams knows the struggle well. After losing everything in his first business venture, he pressed on to launch Talley & Twine in 2014. 

During the beginning stages, he worked while running his company. Not before long, his position was eliminated. “It’s just a temporary defeat, not a permanent failure,” tweeted Williams. He found himself at a crossroad: search for another job or pursue his business full time. He chose the latter.

At the same time, Heyward was working as a senior consultant at System Evolution, Inc. He quickly rose through the ranks and became a principal consultant. Undoubtedly, their shared experience at Albany State University afforded them the opportunity to excel and fail forward.

“We are compelled to help current ASU students have similar experiences [as we did], and we’re excited to make a difference in the lives of others,” remarked Williams.

Talley & Twine has certainly come a long way since 2014. According to Williams, his 100 percent commitment to his business helped increase everything from their customer base and referrals to internet traffic. 

In the same way, both Williams and Heyward’s alms have partially lifted the financial strain on some of the most vulnerable students at Albany State University, allowing their 100 percent commitment to their business studies.

Journalist established in 2001, inspired by transformative leads.

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