Cassius Rudolph is only 24 years old, but he’s already accomplished a feat many people twice his age only dream of. The Southside Chicago native, currently studying at Columbia University’s Union Theological Seminary, is working as a sort of middle man between both his former alma maters: Harlan High School and Tougaloo College.
Rudolph recently launched the Cassius Rudolph Scholarship Fund which will award multiple scholarships to students from Chicago’s Harlan High School to attend Tougaloo College, a private HBCU in Jackson, Mississippi.
BYP got the opportunity to speak with Rudolph about starting the scholarship fund, getting an endorsement from Dr. Cornel West and the importance of channeling students to HBCUs.
Keith Reid-Cleveland: When did you first get the idea of having a scholarship fund?
Cassius Rudolph: Well, I thought about starting the scholarship fund probably a year ago. Sometime last year I was thinking, “What can I do for both of my schools?” Both of my schools meaning Harlan, where I went to for high school, and Tougaloo College, where I did my undergrad work in Jackson, Mississippi. Harlan has always sent a good number of students down to Mississippi to attend Tougaloo.
I would always come back to visit Harlan to do mentoring programs. We had a panel of Harlan alum that are in college or in a career field, that would come back and talk to the students about their aspirations after high school. So, it was with those thoughts in mind. What can I do for my high school and what can I do for my college? I guess it’s all going to lead to what can I do for my community and the city of Chicago.
KRC: I don’t know if you realize this, but being 24 years old and having a scholarship in your name is an amazing feat. Maybe you don’t want to say it, but I’ll go ahead and say it for you. What does that feel like?
CR: Well I appreciate it. I never really even thought of it like that because, when I thought about doing it I didn’t know what to name it. I didn’t want to seem arrogant or seem like that it’s all about me and stuff like that, but I said to myself, “I do want a legacy.” You never know what can happen.
I definitely made sure that in our mission statement that they know it’s not about me. I want to be the agent of change. I want to contribute and help those that need help. I mean, people helped me to get where I am today and I said, “It’s fitting to do the same thing.”
KRC: How many scholarships have you given out so far?
CR: Well, we haven’t awarded any scholarships yet. The applications are still out at the high school. This year we’re focusing on just Harlan High School. I think we’re going to try to award three $1,000 scholarships by May 2nd. I would like to announce who will get the scholarships at the commencement in June. We’re gonna try to do at least three. Next year we’re gonna try to do more than that and then open it up to the city of Chicago.
KRC:Yeah, I saw that Dr. Cornel West was the keynote speaker for the banquet. Can I ask you, what was that experience like and how did that come about?
CaRssius Rudolph: Oh, the experience was great. It was phenomenal, every word you can think of, it was that. He was one of my professors here at the seminary. Of course he’s an Alpha and he’s a frat brother, so that was a good connection right there. So you have two things, you know we’re fraternity brothers, and we are student and teacher. I told him about my aspirations, told him what I wanted to do last year. We sat down and talked about it, we got it together, put me on a schedule and we made it happen.
He came and it was just a awesome day. Before my program, I had the opportunity to go over with him to the Rainbow PUSH. There were so many prominent people, Cornel West, Bernie Sanders was there that Saturday, Benjamin Jealous, Otis Moss, just a whole bunch of people. And he gave me a shout out on national TV! He got up fixed his mic, you know he was in the moment, and he was like, “I didn’t even know about the event today. I was with my brother Cassius going to his event for Tougaloo College.” It’s just awesome to see and to be in that type of environment with those people and for him to do that. That was a great experience. Definitely, a great experience.
KRC: Why do you think it’s important to help steer students from Chicago to schools like Tougaloo?
CR: I think it’s important because some students, young people in Chicago, they have never left their communities. They have never left their city nor the state. I think that it would be pivotal for their growth as an individual to get outside of their environment. Because as you and I both know there’s a lot of negative things happening in our communities. Our communities meaning our black and brown communities. Some of them are poverty stricken, they don’t have the adequate education or educational funds to help them reach their goals, or adequate money to go places.
With my scholarship fund I want to try to do as much as I can. Even if this means taking them to college on college tours, taking them myself trying to find opportunities for them outside of Chicago, having youth summits, workshops, things like that and just to get a personal relationship with these people. They need to get out of Chicago. Tougaloo College, among other historical black colleges and universities in the U.S., are great for young people that need a family environment.
KRC: It sounds to me like, while you may not be just there to do it yet, your on the verge of actually starting a program and expanding that scholarship into something more like that. Is that a possibility for you in the future?
CR: Yeah, definitely a possibility in the future. Never know where I’ll be after I finish my graduate degree up here at Columbia University. I would like to come back to Chicago, maybe start something here in New York as well, but I never want to forget where I come from. I’ve got an extensive network at home in Chicago, in Jackson, Mississippi and even here in New York City. I’m just trying to build my networking base. You never know when I’ll need someone to help me start or to help me build with something, but Chicago has potential. Chicago’s a great city and we have great students, we have great young people there and they need our help.
The Cassius Rudolph Scholarship Fund is still accepting donations. If you would like to contribute, click here.
Photo credit: Received from Cassius Rudolph