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Gambrell Foundation Announces Gift That Pushes JCSU Fundraising Goal past $80 million

CHARLOTTE, N.C./Sept. 1 – The Gambrell family continued its long history of support by announcing a $1.8 million gift to Johnson C. Smith University during an event on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

The event also celebrated an announcement from the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative. Johnson C. Smith University’s workstream has surpassed its $80 million fundraising goal thanks to the Gambrell Foundation gift. It is the first of four workstreams to meet and surpass its fundraising goal.

“Sally, you didn’t have to give this gift, but we’re grateful that you have followed in the footsteps of your sweet and supportive late mother to show unclenching support for the mission and vision of Johnson C. Smith University,” said President Clarence D. Armbrister. “We are truly humbled by the continued generosity of the Gambrell Foundation. The impact of this gift, and this initiative, will be far reaching.”

“It’s an honor for The Gambrell Foundation to provide the cornerstone gift for this important campaign. Through our grants to organizations supporting young people across Charlotte, we see so much potential for them to make a positive impact on our community and world,” added Sally Gambrell Bridgford, president of The Gambrell Foundation. “We need strong institutions like JCSU to make their dreams a reality. That’s why we’re proud to partner with the university to ensure it has the resources to help transform lives.”

Sally’s mother, Sarah Belk Gambrell, was a loyal donor to Johnson C. Smith University throughout the 90s. Her legacy is remembered when students, faculty and staff attend functions inside the Sarah Belk Gambrell Auditorium in historic Biddle Hall.

The Gambrell Foundation continues Sarah’s mission to provide resources that help bridge the divide of inequity in the Charlotte community. Sally said on Tuesday that she was excited to see the MREI was taking steps to tackle inequity and make Charlotte the standard for equity and opportunity.

To date, MREI has raised more than $226 million of the overall $250 million goal, with more than $144 million raised of the $150 million private-sector fundraising goal. Workstreams for the MREI include bridging the digital divide, investing in Charlotte’s six Corridors of Opportunity, advancing more leaders of color within corporations and transforming JCSU into a top-tier, career-focused HBCU. 

JCSU is poised to become a top HBCU, as funds from the MREI will be used to expand the current academic offerings and recruit top talent through career-oriented incentives. 

“The goal of this initiative is to establish public-private partnerships for achieving racial equity, social justice, economic opportunity and upward mobility,” explained Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles. “The response from our philanthropic and corporate community is unprecedented, and I am proud that this initiative is setting a new standard for American cities.”

In addition to the gift from The Gambrell Foundation, other funders whose gifts (all or in part) support the JCSU workstream include Atrium Health, Bank of America, Barings, Coca-Cola Consolidated, Duke Energy, EY, JP Morgan, Lowe's, Truist, Mary & Mike Lamach, Michael Jordan Family Foundation, Novant Health, Nucor, Ric Elias, The Duke Endowment and Wells Fargo.

Foundation For The Carolinas is leading fundraising efforts, and the private dollars raised are held in a fund at the Foundation, providing support to advance the work of the initiatives. Each of the four priority focus areas has financial oversight by its own Funder Advisory Committee, which oversees expenditures and gives FFTC the green light to release the private-donor funds for each focus area. 

Public dollars remain separate and flow through the existing processes for approval, oversight and distribution established at the public entities. For more information on the Mayor’s Racial Equity Initiative, visit

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