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Alum-funded endowment honors George Floyd, helps students

The new endowment in the name of George Floyd, whose tragic death energized a significant social movement, was established on the strength of a donation from Sac State alum Paul Coccovillo. (iStock photo)

Chinedu Okobi’s death after a sheriff’s deputy fired a Taser at him on a busy San Mateo County street did not gain the worldwide attention accorded to other recent killings of unarmed Black men.

But it resonated deeply with Paul Coccovillo, a Sacramento State alum who worked with Okobi’s sister at Facebook in San Francisco when her beloved brother died in October 2018.

“This guy was about my size, he had the same level of education as I did, and he was from an affluent area, like me,” Coccovillo said. “The only difference between us was that he was Black, and for him that became a matter of life and death. It really shook me.”

A father and a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta, Okobi was jaywalking across a busy street in Millbrae when deputies approached him. He died after Tasers hit him multiple times.

“Sac State is committed to putting education within reach for all. A fund like this will help students overcome obstacles and give them a chance to complete their degrees and become successful. That’s a very powerful thing.”

Okobi’s death, and other killings of Black men around the country, sparked a fire within Coccovillo. Ultimately, it led him to donate $60,000 in seed money to establish a fund at Sac State in the name of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25, 2020, when police officers in Minneapolis pinned him to the ground, one with a knee on Floyd's neck.

The George Floyd Emergency Endowment Fund aims to help students who are experiencing unexpected financial crises that threaten their educations.

“Many of our scholars are impacted with trauma crises that other scholarships may not be able to cover, such as mental health needs specific to the Black community, child care, and transit and license citations that affect their ability to remain in school,” said Andrea Moore, associate professor of Ethnic Studies and director of Sac State’s Cooper-Woodson College Enhancement Program. “The George Floyd Emergency Endowment aims to inclusively reach students with such needs.”

Coccovillo, who earned his MBA from Sac State in 2011 and is vice president of finance for the electronic cigarette company Juul Industries, said he hopes the fund will help “level the playing field” for students of color and scholars in dire financial situations.

“One medical bill, or a parent losing a job, or any number of other circumstances could lead to someone interrupting his or her education,” Coccovillo said. “I hope that the fund will find those who are most in need and are in danger of dropping out, and offer them a safety net.”

One student already has received help from the fund, Moore said.

Coccovillo’s efforts to help launch and promote the fund strengthens his ties to Sac State. Since earning his graduate degree, he has remained involved with the campus, speaking to classes, moderating pitch competitions, and participating in roundtable discussions.

He will be forever grateful to the education he received at the University, he said.

At Sac State, Coccovillo was able to earn his master's for a fraction of the cost of his undergraduate education at a private college in Boston.

“Sac State was a great experience for me,” he said. “The (CSU)’s commitment to democratizing education and making it available to everyone is so impressive.”

The George Floyd fund not only honors Floyd, but Okobi, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others whose deaths have raised questions about social justice, he said, and affirms Sac State’s dedication to that cause.

“Sac State is committed to putting education within reach for all,” Coccovillo said. “A fund like this will help students overcome obstacles and give them a chance to complete their degrees and become successful. That’s a very powerful thing.”

For more information about the George Floyd Emergency Endowment Fund, or to donate, go to: swarmfunding.csus.edu.

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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