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Major gift to CU Denver will establish scholarships, continue legacy of Shaka Franklin Foundation

For nearly a quarter century, Les and Marianne Franklin, through their Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth, have devoted substantial efforts and resources to helping underserved Metro Denver youth develop self-esteem, life skills and the goal of pursuing higher education.

The Franklins’ goals will outlive them at the University of Colorado Denver, where they are making gifts that will establish three endowed scholarships and programs for at-risk youth that extend the Shaka Franklin Foundation’s mission of mentorship, character-building and suicide prevention.

The Franklins intend their CU Denver commitment to ultimately total $1.5 million (pending the sale of two properties whose proceeds will fund this gift). Wednesday Les and Marianne (a University of Colorado Foundation trustee) made a first payment toward this gift.

“We’ve seen so many young people who didn’t think they would go to college. Nobody ever encouraged them to do anything,” Les Franklin says. “Our life’s work is about saving our children, loving our children. What the University of Colorado brings to this state and to the community is so important. We didn’t go to CU, but this is our community, our city. And we want people to know that our work continues.”

Underscoring the Franklins’ focus on local, at-risk youth, the three Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth scholarships will be designated for Denver-area students who might fall through the cracks of traditional scholarship awards—students with B-/C+ grade point averages who could not otherwise afford tuition, and who are willing to mentor adolescents in similar circumstances. This sort of scholarship might once have gone to Les Franklin, who as a schoolboy had a D average but went on to become an executive at IBM.

Each scholarship (for students in one of two schools, the Business School or the School of Education & Human Development) will be named in honor of three regional trailblazers whose civil-rights efforts have been meaningful to the Franklins: Rachel Noel, Evie Dennis and James Ward. A goal is for the Franklin Scholarships to cover, in conjunction with other need-based grants, 100 percent of a student’s tuition need.

“The work of Les and Marianne Franklin has given hope to thousands of children throughout Colorado, and has saved many lives,” says Donald Elliman, CU Denver chancellor. “We’re honored that they have chosen CU Denver as the place to further their goals, and we are grateful that these scholarships and programs will open doors for promising youth going forward.”

When the program is fully developed, the Franklins’ support will provide the seed for opportunity breakfasts, guest speakers, pre-collegiate workshops, service awards and business partnerships, all consistent with the Shaka Franklin Foundation for Youth’s long-time mission.

The Franklins started the Foundation in 1990 to address the problem of youth suicide, and were motivated to do so after the teen suicide of Les’s first son, Shaka. Colorado’s suicide rate is sixth among U.S. states.

A popular community resource for youth in east Denver, the Shaka Franklin Foundation has provided positive alternatives and activities for adolescents (ice hockey is a particular passion for Les), and has endured even through the subsequent suicide of another son, Jamon. Though in recent years the Shaka Franklin Foundation has maintained a lower profile, the gift will give the Franklins’ youth-empowerment efforts a boost.

“I was a business major, and we’ve managed our foundation like we managed a business,” Les says. “It is a business—the business of saving lives.”

The Franklins’ gift is one of more than 275,000 gifts made during Creating Futures, a $1.5 billion fundraising campaign to enhance University of Colorado education, research, outreach and health programs benefiting citizens throughout and beyond Colorado. Visit cufund.org for more information.

The University of Colorado Denver offers more than 130 degrees and programs in 13 schools and colleges and serves more than 14,000 students.  The university is located on two campuses. CU Denver is in downtown Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is in Aurora, Colo. For more information, visit the university’s newsroom.