Gerami’s gift still in question a week later

Gregory Gerami

By Vaughn Wilson

Against the Grain II

    It was one of the most awkward moments in FAMU Commencement history.  It wasn’t a student strolling across the stage representing their fraternity or sorority.  It wasn’t an extra-loud family shouting the name of their graduate at an inappropriate time.  It wasn’t a wild outfit or an oddly-decorated graduation cap.  The awkward moment came moments after a huge announcement.

Gregory Gerami, Co-CEO of a hemp farm in Texas and the trustee for the Isaac Batterson Family 7th Trust, was the speaker for the FAMU Commencement Ceremony in which a large donation of $237 million was announced.  This is where the moment got awkward.

Gerami declared “the money is already in the bank, right.”  As he said that he looked directly at Dr. Shawnta Friday-Stroud, who serves as VP of the FAMU Foundation, she looked at Gerami and awkwardly and seemingly reluctantly acknowledged.

Sitting on the first row of commencement with other media persons, I had literally a front row seat.  Friday-Stroud and I were in FAMU’s School of Business and Industry at the same time, so I am accustomed to her body language.  It was completely uncomfortable for her.  That is unusual for a woman who has been so successful in her endeavors and has done so with the confidence built into her by Dean Sybil Mobley.

I attended the post-commencement press conference at the Lawson Center.  That is where it was first mentioned that it was a stock gift.  My immediate reaction was that Gerami said it was a check in the bank, when in fact it was a stock transfer.

To this day, we have no real way of knowing what the full value of Gerami’s donation will amount to.  There is a possibility that it will amount to what he said it would.  The problem with the entire gift is something that is not uncommon with gifts to any university.  Big donors often want to remain anonymous or at least remain anonymous to a point.  Having Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDA) with a university is common.  This is just a case of where the university is exposed in a risky manner.

Obviously the FAMU Foundation did not have the time to fully vet the gift.  If so, Friday-Stroud’s later assertion that the gift could carry a variety of values would have been disclosed earlier.  Gerami, who had previously had a failed attempt at a donation to Coastal Carolina University, found a way to stay under the radar until he was allowed to grandstand at commencement.  Unfortunately for FAMU, it was a perfect storm.

FAMU could use the resources.  In the press conference, the director of FAMU’s CEDAR program was on hand and emphasized how her department rarely received donations, but it was slated to get a good portion of the donation.  Gerami has a passion for the department as he himself was born with an opiod dependence because of the actions of his mother.  He manages his disability to this day.

In the end, the money was not in fact “in the bank.”  There is a long process for FAMU to realize the value of $237 million that was stated or even a portion of that.  While so many factors are still up in the air, one thing is clear,  Gregory Gerami did not write FAMU a $237 million check.  There is hope that the university will receive a big cash value for the stock donation and the future offerings, now stated to be over a 10-year span.

Another big hole in how this played out is the process of receiving a donation as big.  The FAMU Board of Trustees has been livid since the commencement.  There was an emergency board meeting to discuss their displeasure and get as much clarity as could be offered to the trustees.  Chairwoman Kristin Harper subsequently wrote an email to the Rattler nation declaring that the board would get to the bottom of the situation.  With an in-person FAMU Board of Trustees meeting planned for this week, I would imagine the tornado that ripped through campus would be the first point of order.

FAMU President Dr. Larry Robinson has a history of solid crisis management in the wake of natural disasters.  It will take all of his skills to manage the severely destroyed property on campus, including compromised roofs at the Grand Ballroom and the Banneker Buildings. Across campus facilities were hit hard.  The popular “Sun Room” at the Banneker Building had the giant glass windows shattered, air conditioning units were literally blown off of roof tops on campus and event Bragg Stadium sustained damage.    Because of the trees downed on power lines, getting power restored to campus will be a challenge.  While we are concerned about Gerami’s situation, there literally are other major concerns on campus to deal with.

About Carma Henry 24866 Articles
Carma Lynn Henry Westside Gazette Newspaper 545 N.W. 7th Terrace, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33311 Office: (954) 525-1489 Fax: (954) 525-1861

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