Academy-award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee is giving back to the community with his latest initiative to launch a fellowship program to support students at the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC)–the oldest and largest association for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
The Consortium consists of three HBCUs: Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, and Lee’s alma mater Morehouse College. In partnership with talent agency Gersh, the fellowship program will offer financial assistance, access to mentors in the entertainment industry, and both internship and career-based opportunities to five graduating students committed to pursuing professions in the arts.
According to Deadline, the program–dubbed ‘The Spike Fellows Program’– is based on the idea that access plus exposure will create opportunities. Lee, an alum of the AUCC who also took classes at Spelman, credits his academic experience and cultural ties with HBCUs as the motivation behind cultivation.
“I am who I am because of my grandmother (Zimmie Jackson) and my mother [Jacquelyn Shelton Lee] who both graduated from Spelman College,” he said in a statement. “I am who I am because of my grandfather [Richard Jackson Shelton] and my father [William Lee] who both graduated from Morehouse… As my elders often told me, ‘Deeds not words’.”
Lee is held in high regard in the film business, thanks to his groundbreaking work challenging social issues and controversial topics dealing with racial stereotypes and relations. Some of his more well-known works include “School Daze” (1988) and “Malcolm X” (1992). The trailblazing director has received several accolades from the Academy Awards, NAACP awards, Emmys, and more. In part to the current event, Lee is also responsible for co-founding the Journalism in Sports, Culture, and Social Justice Program at Morehouse College–a major that equips students to tell a compelling tale across all platforms.
“One thing students should know for sure is that Spike is very, very serious about this. If he creates something like this in his name, then he’s gonna stand behind it and make sure it’s successful,” said Department Chair [of Journalism in Sports, Culture and Social Justice] Ron Thomas.
While the official plans are underway, Morehouse College staff anticipate the adventure that awaits the chosen group. Thomas touched on how The Spike Lee Fellowship Program is consistent with Lee’s as well as Morehouse’s own philosophy of exposing Black journalists to a wide variety of professions in the media business, especially those behind the scenes that may not get as much attention, but hold just as much value. He also spoke on how programs such as this one stand out due to the unique benefits they can offer young journalists, such as full-time employment post-graduation and academic debt relief. Not to mention, the theme of “access plus exposure” will prepare participants professionally and academically for the entertainment industry firsthand.
“One of the key things that Spike has always wanted to do [with the program] was to make sure our students had an opportunity to not only learn in the classroom but also be exposed to journalists through guest speakers and different events,” Thomas said. “I think Spike is taking the same approach here, where he’s trying to find five graduates…who have shown interest and some skills in this field, and he wants to make sure that they are trained, but also that they get an opportunity to be mentored by people in the entertainment business.”
Along with specializing in talent, literature, and production, Gerch also has a lengthy background promoting social concerns as an agency and on behalf of its clients. Gersh Senior Managing Partner, Leslie Siebert, attested to the significance of amplifying and showcasing diverse voices throughout the industry and how the fellowship program would be instrumental in doing so. “As industry leaders, we’ve always taken seriously the responsibility to build a more diverse, dynamic ecosystem in which people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and experiences can thrive,” Siebert said. “We are honored that Spike has chosen us to be his inaugural partner, and we are proud to welcome the five inaugural Spike Fellows into our organization.”
The collective of fellows will be determined by Lee, the management team at Gersh, and educational leaders within the AUCC. In line with the aforementioned, Gersh’s Head of Culture Jayson Council will lead the organization and promote the plans for a multiyear commitment. The program is set to begin this month.
Spike Lee reflects on the influence of Morehouse College as he leads school cheer during an inaugural film festival in November 2019. Lee graduated from the Atlanta college in 1979 and has dedicated much time, effort, and financial resources to giving back to his alma mater since.