Shaka and Maya Smart make major gift to help Black students at Marquette cover emergency expenses

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Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart (center-right) and his wife May (far right) with Marquette University President Michael Lovell (left) and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl (center-left) at Smart’s introductory press conference March 29, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

Marquette President Michael Lovell announced Monday afternoon that Marquette men’s basketball head coach Shaka Smart and his wife Maya have made a “major” gift to help Black students at Marquette to cover emergency expenses.

These expenses will consist of unanticipated loss or travel emergencies as well as food and safety needs.

“The reality is, in higher education, we need to continue to do more and do better for students of color,” Shaka Smart said in the statement. “Dr. Lovell believes in that mission, and that’s why we’re here. We want to be a part of something much, much larger, and we want others to join us. That’s what sports are all about. That’s what coaching is all about — trying to get our guys to be part of something much bigger than themselves.”

The university mentioned the fund will mirror the university’s Bridge to Future Fund, which was established to help students experiencing financial struggles that would jeopardize their ability to continue their Marquette education.

“We all have an opportunity every day to make a difference in ways large and small,” Maya Smart said in the statement. “We are happy to contribute in this way to shine a light on the needs of students who have tremendously bright futures ahead of them and just need a little help.”

Lovell called the Smarts’ gift “a true blessing.”

“From the moment they stepped on campus, Shaka and Maya have energized our entire community,” Lovell said in the statement. “Their significant gift extends far beyond the basketball court through the halls of Marquette, embodying our mission to serve others and foster new opportunities for underrepresented students. Their leadership is an inspiration.”

Deondre Reid, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, said Lovell’s remarks of the Smarts’ gift goes beyond the hardwood. 

“It makes a statement that people who give back to the community play a big role,” Reid said. “It means a lot, especially someone who’s like you giving back to you.”

The Smarts’ gift will launch an endowed Student Success Fund in honor of former Marquette men’s basketball forward Bo Ellis and his wife Candy. According to the release, it mentions the Smarts’ recognized the impact the Ellis’ have made through their foundation, the Nicole Ellis Foundation, which was established after the sudden death of their daughter Nicole in 2007.

The purpose of their scholarship fund is to help students who might not otherwise be afforded a Marquette education.

“We are truly honored that Coach Smart and his wife, Maya, have decided to start an endowed fund named after us. Since establishing our foundation, it has always been our goal to help Marquette students with financial support towards completing their college education,” Bo and Candy Ellis said in the statement.

“This fund will do just that, helping our communities and exposing students to a university that promotes professional excellence. They will have the privilege of joining the great Marquette University family of alumni. It means the world to us.”

Vice President and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl said the Smarts’ gift the mission of the university.

“We talk often with our student athletes about being women and men who go forward to make a positive impact on the world and pursue excellence in all that they do,” Scholl said in the statement. “Shaka and Maya not only embrace and speak to these principles — they live them.”

Matt Magden, a senior in the College of Business Administration, said it means a lot to him to see the Smarts’ provide this opportunity to Black students.

“He didn’t have to do that and we’re always trying to be the difference and be men and women for others,” Magden said. “And I think a lot of people say that and it sometimes seems just like messaging but for him to do that, it’s really above and beyond.”

The Smarts’ gift will help make an impact for current and future Marquette students, with the hopes others will invest in the university’s endowment.

“We wanted to start a fund that could help students immediately, but also we thought it’d be pretty cool if 50 years from now, this fund could still be benefiting African American students,” Shaka Smart said.

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter @JohnLeuzziMU.