Rolling Out

Benjamin Crump, NAACP’s Derrick Johnson discuss impact of Denny’s initiative

The Denny’s initiative is committed to providing opportunities for the communities it serves

On May 30, Denny’s announced a commitment to the community by forming an alliance with 14 civic and educational organizations that coincide with their Community initiative. The initiative includes over $2 billion in investments in diverse-owned businesses and donations exceeding $2.5 million in scholarships.

The launch of Denny’s Community Alliance took place at the St. Thomas University Benjamin L. Crump College of Law. Denny’s CEO and president Kelli Valade signed the Community Alliance agreement and presented a $500,000 scholarship gift from Denny’s to the College of Law in support of its commitment to social justice.

Crump and NAACP president Derrick Johnson spoke with rolling out about what success looks like for the initiative.

What does success look like for this initiative?

Benjamin Crump: We want to give every young person [an opportunity] who traditionally was not able to afford [a] legal education, even though they checked all the boxes and they did everything right, but for the financial challenges, they were not able to come to the law school and get the law degree. But with Kelli Valade, Derrick Johnson, and Denny’s commitment and donation, it has helped build the next generation of civil rights leaders and social justice warriors in the lineage of the great NAACP lawyers like Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley.

That’s what success looks like to me, making it where Tarlika Nunez-Navarro, this visionary leader, along with the St. Thomas University president, can sit across the desk from Black and Brown students and say, “We can help you realize your dream here at St. Thomas University of being a lawyer.” I don’t think there’s anything more important that we can do to make the American Dream real for all Americans.

Derrick Johnson: Going to law school is an investment. For many students, sometimes you’re worried about whether they can pay their rent to stay in law school or the small dollar obligations that they incur. Even for students who have scholarships, you cannot really work … because of the rigor of the training. So having a scholarship program to ensure students can have [the] ease of existence in law school so they can be successful, they can be productive, and the strong critical thinkers society needs, I think is really crucial. I applaud Denny’s for stepping up in this way.

How important is unity?

BC: Unity in the community is paramount. I am so overwhelmed every time I come to St. Thomas University to see the commitment in the greater community because it speaks volumes. When you have visionary leaders like Kelli Valade and David Armstrong, who say that we’re better when we are united, when we have unity, and we are better when we build bridges, and that should be the objective for every institution and every organization. You cannot survive in this global economy if you are not sensitive to your customer base, and trying to make sure you grow your company, and the only way you can do that is by being inclusive of everybody.

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