We all know Jesse Williams for his role as Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC’s hit drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” along with his social activism and, most recently, his rousing Humanitarian Award acceptance speech at the 2016 BET Awards.
But before the fame and fortune, Williams worked as a high school educator in Philadelphia. According to Yahoo Finance, his previous job as a public-school teacher ultimately led him to team up with Philly-based phone app “Scholly,” a scholarship-matching service created to help underprivileged students find cash for college.
Scholly CEO Christopher Gray, 24, appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2014 and struck a $40,000 deal with entrepreneurs Lori Greiner and Daymond John. As an avid watcher of the popular TV show, Williams said Gray’s idea for an app that directly pairs students with scholarships they qualify for blew him away.
“It really struck a chord with me because finances were a big part of whether or not I was going to make it into college,” he told Yahoo Finance. “And throughout my college experience, it was a source of a lot of stress and strain and work study and worrying about whether I’m going to be able to afford the next semester and a lot of scrambling. So [Scholly] seemed really important and impactful.”
Williams has since joined Scholly’s Board of Directors as the new chief brand ambassador, the news site reports. The actor/activist will help promote the scholarship app, which provides users with both need-based and merit-based scholarship options. The service also matches students with scholarships tailored specifically for them based on factors like where they live, their race and GPA, among other things.
Gray said he decided to create the app after spending countless hours searching the internet for college scholarships.
“There was information online, but it was scattered all over, and often outdated,” he said. “I did a lot of Googling. I thought there had to be a better way.”
According to the company’s website, Gray managed to rack up over $1.3 million in scholarships for his college education “through grit, sweat and hustle.” The Scholly CEO graduated from Drexel University and has since made things much easier for students mulling through the time-consuming process of finding scholarships.
“I desperately wish that [Scholly existed when I was in school],” Williams said. “I was constantly kicking and scraping. Books cost a lot of money, figuring out my housing issues, having to do a work study, I had to work as a telemarketer for five bucks an hour. Getting into school is one thing, and then it’s another thing to be able to focus on your schoolwork and not worry about how you’re going to pay for the next semester.”
It was this similar struggle and the fact that Williams had previously worked as a high school teacher that prompted Gray to bring him on board. The actor thought is was a good fit, too.
“Jesse was a former educator here in Philly and that resonated with our mission as he understands first-hand the problem we are trying to help solve,” the CEO told Philly.com. “He is a voice for social change and has a platform to create visibility around issues, including educational access, which we are both passionate about.”
According to the New York Daily News, the Scholly app has provided over $50 million in scholarships since its launch in 2014.