American Diversity in China: Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund

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This Tuesday, September 9, 2014, we were honored to host Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, at the Project Pengyou courtyard to discuss the issue of diversity among American students who study in China. The event was moderated by Sandra Jeffrey, the Executive Director of Americans Promoting Study Abroad (APSA).

A natural charmer, Johnny warmed up the crowd with his lightheartedness, joking that, “This is the closest to Oprah I will probably ever get!”.

However, it quickly became apparent that Mr. Taylor recognized the importance of encouraging American diversity abroad, an opportunity that is not as readily available to students at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

For this reason, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund has partnered with the 100k Strong Foundation to put together a delegation of professionals who promote study abroad to under-served and underrepresented student groups, such as those who attend HBCUs.

The format was intimate, and Johnny’s engaging nature gave the event a collaborative feel. The discussion ranged from issues African American students face while studying abroad to stories of individuals who have had life-changing experiences abroad and, finally, ways to engage students at HBCUs and give them incentives to go abroad.

“I love my job. What I like most is that we are making students open their world-view.”

The delegation members: (clockwise from left) Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Sandra Jeffrey, Christopher DelaRosa Lopez, Executive Assistant to the President & Education Policy Specialist, Dr. N. Joyce Payne, Carola McGiffert, President of the 100k Strong Foundation.


Out of all the challenges in convincing HBCU students to go abroad, the main problems Johnny emphasized were issues of awareness and perceived accessibility.

He explained that in 2014, 30 percent of students at Howard University, one of the most prestigious of HBCUs, come from a household that makes less than $13,000 annually. With such financial pressure, what student could think of studying in another country?

Many students also work and provide a source of income for their families. To these families, studying abroad means losing an income stream. Even those that attend college in another city often return home due to pressure from family members. (At one Mississippi University, half of the student body dropped out after first semester for this reason.)

Johnny also brought up the challenge that Asia and China are perceived as scary places with impossibly difficult languages to learn. Students from HBCUs who do study abroad often go to Africa or Haiti on trips that are goal- or mission-related. The idea of an exploratory semester abroad is seen as a waste of credits or, even worse, a hindrance to graduation.


With all the barriers, financial and otherwise, what could convince a student from under-served and underrepresented schools to go abroad?

Johnny’s answer: just do it. “Like the Nike slogan,” he laughs.

He is convinced, like so many of us, that all it takes is a plane ticket and an open mind to change one’s life. He jokes that he hears a lot of silly concerns, like “What will I eat?” or “Where will I get my hair cut?” but all of the fears of unpalatable food, monolithic masses, oppressive pollution and other exaggerations and misconceptions fade away upon arrival. Most students feel an amazing sense of empowerment in the wake of their new knowledge and ability to navigate a foreign country.

“You get students who haven’t left their zip code. It’s invigorating to provide the ‘impossible’ experience for someone and change their life…”


Johnny emphasized that the most important way you can help the cause is to be an ambassador of your experience to everyone, not just “someone who looks like you.” Share your experiences with anyone who is receptive and seek out students who might not be reached through traditional means.

The esteemed founder of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Dr. Joyce Payne, capped off the discussion:

“I can’t think of a better time to create opportunity to bring the U.S. and China together. All of you have amazing opportunities and potential, and I believe the people sitting in this room can change the world.”

Let’s all live up to Dr. Payne’s expectations and become a pengyou to everyone we meet. Let’s share our China experiences with everyone so that the America we show to the world is as vibrant and diverse as the America we know.

Check out more photos from the event here!

Speaker and Delegation Profile

Mr. Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Esq. was appointed President & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), in 2010. TMCF is headquartered in Washington, D.C. with offices in New York, Houston and Atlanta. He earned his undergraduate degree in Communication at the University of Miami, received his master’s in Mass Communication from Drake University and his Doctor of Jurisprudence from the Drake University Law School, where he served as Research Editor of the Drake Law Review. He is a member of the Florida, Illinois and Washington, D.C. bars, and holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification.  Mr. Taylor is a recognized leader in higher education, the not-for-profit world and human resources. Prior to joining TMCF, he served in senior positions in the areas of legal affairs, entertainment and human resources.

TMCF has established a partnership with the Humpy Dumpy Institute’s Higher Education Alliance, which is designed to engage universities in advancing globalization and building bridges between students and the United Nations.

Christopher DelaRosa Lopez

Christopher Lopez is a recent HBCU graduate from North Carolina. He is a Cum Laude graduate from North Carolina Central University, received his Bachelor of Business Administration in May 2013 and joined the TMCF team, full-time, in August 2013.

While at North Carolina Central University, Christopher served as the Student Ambassador for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for two years. Several months after graduation, Christopher joined the TMCF team as the Executive Assistant to the President & Education Policy Specialist.

He is originally from the military town of Jacksonville, North Carolina, but currently resides in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Carola McGiffert

Carola McGiffert is President of the 100,000 Strong Foundation. Until recently, she was a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the US Department of State, where she served as the director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative, a presidential effort to increase the number and diversity of Americans who study in China. Previously, she co-founded StratAsia, a boutique consulting firm that helped American companies do business in Asia. From 2002 to 2009, she worked at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington, DC-based think tank, as a senior fellow and chief of staff to the CEO. Ms. McGiffert began her career in the Clinton White House, with subsequent stints at the US Department of Commerce and the Office of the US Trade Representative, where she was part of the China WTO working group. She received an M.A. in Chinese Studies from Johns Hopkins School of International Studies and a B.A. in government and economics from Wesleyan University.

Dr. N. Joyce Payne

N. Joyce Payne is responsible for coordinating the delegation to Taiwan.  In 1987, she founded TMCF and is currently responsible for international affairs and STEAM.  She reports directly to the President & CEO of TMCF and provides some assistance in generating support for international programs.  For more than 25 years, she served as Vice President of the Office for the Advancement of Public Black Colleges of the National Association of State Universities & Land-Grant Colleges in Washington, D.C. She did her undergraduate studies in Speech Pathology at the D.C. Teachers College and earned her master’s and doctorate from Atlanta University.