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Friday, July 21, 2023

Meet the Black Woman Whose Nonprofit Gives HBCU Students Dorm Room Makeovers

Transforming Lives, One Dorm Room At A Time: Move-In Day Mafia Prepares for College Move-In Season at HBCUs

TeeJ Mercer, founder of Move In Day Mafia

Nationwide — Hollywood veteran & Howard University grad, TeeJ Mercer, is the founder and creator of Move-In Day Mafia (MIDM), a non-profit organization of volunteers that provide dorm room makeovers and everything underserved HBCU freshmen need to kick off their college journey at Prairie View A&M, Paul Quinn College, & Fisk University College move-in day season is fast approaching. Attending college is expensive and for the freshmen who have aged out of foster care, getting from the first year to graduation can seem like an impossible goal.

Founded in 2022, Move-In Day Mafia (MIDM) is an initiative of Project Dreamlight 501(c)3. Ultimately, it’s a “mob” of volunteers who descend upon HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) to provide dorm room makeovers and ongoing assistance primarily for freshmen who have aged out of foster care, are homeless or need more financial support.

It’s estimated that while 70% of kids in foster care dream of college, only 3% realize their dream to go, and only 1% graduate. A number of issues affect their success such as housing insecurity and minimal family contribution, creating a huge financial burden.

Determined to do something about the dismal graduation rate, Award-winning TV Editor & Producer, TeeJ Mercer, the “Godfather” of MIDM, questions, “How can students focus, create and thrive when they are worried about their basic human needs? I just want them to go to school and not have to work two or three jobs to take care of themselves. The only thing they should be concerned about is studying hard, partying, making memories, and ultimately graduating.”

With the help of donors and their corporate partners Trade & Travel, NJ Luke Publishing, and Nikki Klugh Design Group, MIDM moved in 13 freshmen to Paul Quinn College in Dallas for its inaugural year in 2022. For the upcoming 2023-2024 school year, the “family” has tripled last year’s effort with 39 freshmen, supporting three schools: Paul Quinn College (Dallas, TX), Prairie View A&M University (Near Houston, TX), and Fisk University (Nashville, TN).

For some of the scholars, the MIDM-designed room will be the first time they have a voice in choosing what goes into their personal space. With this in mind, celebrity interior designer Nikki Klugh designs each dorm room with the goal of incorporating their favorite things. “At our firm, we create ideal spaces that our clients fall madly in love with. It doesn’t matter if the space is small and on a slim budget or thousands of square feet with a very healthy budget, our team cares about the inhabitants and how that space will affect their total health and well-being,” says Klugh. “So when TeeJ told me the mission of the Mafia, I knew that we had to do our part to create the same feeling for this incredibly deserving group of students.”

On move-in day, scholars receive a complete dorm room design, along with a TV, refrigerator and microwave (if not provided by the school) artwork, school supplies, hygiene items, cleaning products, storage solutions, and much more.
The 2023 applications are rolling in. When asked why they need MIDM, a homeless applicant who will attend Fisk University wrote, “I’ve been on my own since 15 years old. I would love help because I feel overwhelmed just doing everything by myself,” while a Prairie View A&M freshman answered, “I currently am homeless bouncing from house to house until I move on to campus and I want a space that feels like it’s mine.”

During the school year, MIDM provides care packages including more hygiene and cleaning products. “We want to ensure they stay focused on just being a student without having to worry about detergent, deodorant, and toothpaste,” says Mercer.

And how did MIDM come to be? The age-old game of Bingo! Yes, you read that right…BINGO!

Back in 2020, while the pandemic was devastating the world, as a graduate of Howard University, the same HBCU of Vice President Kamala Harris, Mercer wanted to do something to help celebrate the HBCU graduates who had their graduations snatched.

Help came in the form of the timeless game, Bingo. In four short weeks, Mercer raised over $1 million in cash and prizes and gave it away to 500 of the 2020 HBCU graduates in a series of Bingo games that she produced just like one of her TV shows.

“When CBS News With Norah O’Donnell did a story on ‘#TeeJHBCUBingo,’ I learned that one of my HBCU babies, as I call them, was a student that had spent time in foster care and her social worker drove her to her HBCU, pulled up to the curb, let her unload what little stuff she had and just left her. That broke me,” she adds.

Mercer activated her life motto of “use what’s in your hands,” and prayed for God to show her how to ensure no HBCU student ever goes through this transition alone.

So Move-In Day Mafia was born, and as Mercer notes, “We’re just getting started!”

On-site volunteers, corporate partners, and tax-deductible donations are integral to MIDM scholars’ success. This year MIDM launched its “Sponsor A Scholar” campaign. For $1,700, a donor can take care of the needs of one scholar’s move-in essentials along with their necessities for the first couple of months. Visit MoveInDayMafia.org to donate and volunteer.

MIDM on Social Media:

About TeeJ Mercer – Pronounced (Tee-jay Mur-sur)
Howard alumna. TV producer. Philanthropist and founder of Move-In Day Mafia. Keynote speaker. Hollywood veteran. Award-winning TV Editor & Producer. Changemaker. Hugger extraordinaire.

For press inquiries, contact Judi Durand at judi.durand@dajdpr.com or 703-725-6017

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