Florida HBCU backs away from dubious $237M donation

By Andrew Atterbury

Florida A&M University is putting an announced $237 million donation from a Texas hemp farming executive “on hold,” as the media and school leaders raise questions about the value and source of the gift.

President Larry Robinson announced the decision at an emergency meeting Thursday of FAMU’s fundraising foundation. Board members expressed grave reservations about the donation, which drew national attention as one of the largest ever for one of the country’s historically Black colleges and universities.

The gift, which according to an agreement released by the school came in the form of millions of shares of stock, has already been transferred to FAMU, school officials said, so it’s unclear exactly how the university will move forward.

The alleged windfall donation to FAMU came from Batterson Farms Corporation’s Gregory Gerami and the Isaac Batterson Family 7th Trust and would’ve almost tripled the school’s endowment, helping students and faculty for generations. But after the announcement was made — with major fanfare during a Saturday commencement ceremony — skepticism quickly quelled the celebration.

For one, Batterson Farms Corporation appears to be a relatively small outfit based in Texas selling hydroponic hemp farm products, leading some to question how its stocks could be worth millions. The doubts have been heightened by reports about Gerami’s past dealings, including a $95 million donation to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 that was terminated by school officials only weeks after it was publicly announced.

FAMU foundation members raised these points during Thursday’s emergency meeting, while venting frustrations about how school staff transacted a nine-figure donation without telling them or the board of trustees. Some board members claimed to have learned about the donation from the university’s press release or from friends after graduation. The board of trustees had already called a special meeting for next week to discuss the donation before Thursday’s shock announcement.

“How did we get this far without knowledge of the transaction or the donor?” asked Chekesha Kidd, a foundation member who is co-founder and CEO of Kinumi, a concierge service.