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Actor Jesse Williams teams up with scholarship company to help pay off $100,000 in student loan debt

Scholly CEO Christopher Gray and Actor Jesse Williams, a Scholly partner and board member, join Yahoo Finance Live to talk about efforts to pay off student loan debts, impacts on college graduates, and the political discourse around the subject.

Video Transcript

DAVE BRIGGS: All right. Student loan debt, it's become one of the biggest political issues of our time. How big? 46 million Americans owe an astounding $1.75 trillion. President Biden has pledged to do his part attempting to fulfill a campaign pledge of $10,000 of forgiveness. "Grey's Anatomy" star Jesse Williams is not waiting on the government. He's forging his own path together with Scholly pledging to pay off $25,000 in student debt. Jesse joins us now with Scholly CEO Christopher Gray. That is Gray, no relation to Meredith Gray.

Jesse, tell us about Pay It Off. And there's so many ways to give back. Why is this personal for you?

JESSE WILLIAMS: Well played on the Gray. Thanks for having me. Thanks for having us. We are-- my payoff program is actually $100,000. We're offering $25,000 to four individuals to pay off their student loan debt. And we have been as an organization, Scholly, fully committed to keeping students in school, giving them as much access as possible to the wide array of scholarships available at their disposal that they might not have been aware of.

We've connected students to over $110 million in scholarships already. And we also catch them on the other end. We know we have a predictable issue of paying off those student loans, paying off debt that students are saddled with just for trying to stay in school. So we're really engaged at all fronts on this issue around education, affordable education, especially for working families, particularly students of color are hardest hit, and otherwise disenfranchised folks in this country. So we're really proud of the innovative work we're doing and utilizing technology to help us do that.

DAVE BRIGGS: All right, Christopher. Tell us how it works. How can people get started? I know the deadline is coming up.

CHRISTOPHER GRAY: Yeah, so right now the, current deadline for the student loan payoff is May 31. So you just go to myscholly.com and go to our exclusive. And you should be able to apply. It takes two minutes to apply for the first round. So it's really, really simple. So we want to make sure that we get it in the hands of as many students, as many college graduates and students as possible.

DAVE BRIGGS: And Jesse, why is this personal to you? Why did you pick this cause to get involved?

JESSE WILLIAMS: A few reasons. It's personal to me because I bounced around from many different school programs as a young person, completely not being able to afford access to a quality education for some time. I had the benefit of scholarships. I've struggled through college as well as my classmates and good friends did for some time semester to semester not knowing, and eating working on a real budget, having to take extra work study, and ROTC, and all these things, and not know if I'm going to be $5,000 short for next semester.

And I saw many of my good friends be forced to drop out because they could not afford to stay in school. And it's completely unfair. And you watch good people be stripped of an opportunity at 19 years old. They have nothing to do with their family's income, their generational wealth, their parents' connections, laws and legislation. We have nothing to do with it, yet, we are the ones that get kicked out of school for something that has nothing to do with us.

So it always stuck with me as a public school teacher later in life once I finished college. I was a public-- I was an educator. And I watched students just like me, young, trying to figure it out, wanting to be afforded the patience, an opportunity to try things, and make mistakes, and try something else, and have somewhere to fall back to while you figure out what you think you might do with your life. And how you could possibly know that 19 and 20 is a different question altogether.

So this is a very passionate project for us both. This came from Chris living this life and figuring out how to find scholarship money for himself as a young person. So we feel really strongly about it and proud of the product and the consumers are responding.

DAVE BRIGGS: Chris, are you satisfied with what the federal government is doing with the intentions of President Biden? And is there something larger that needs to be fixed? It's one thing to pay off some of these students debt, but is there a system that needs to be fixed?

CHRISTOPHER GRAY: Yes. I mean, I think that it really starts with the cost of college. I mean, college costs rise every year because they're incentivized to do so because they know that students can just take out more and more student debt. So I do think the federal government, they should try to do something to really curb college costs.

I know there are talks around forgiving student debt like 10,000, 50,000. There's different [INAUDIBLE] across the board. But it definitely requires I think the government to get involved. So I really look forward to hearing what the Biden administration is going to do something. Apparently, I think they're going to announce something in a few weeks. But we definitely need involvement. But because it means student debt starts with the cost of college.

So I think making, I mean, making college free, I mean, more scholarships, more grant-- the government getting larger Pell grants, I think there are a number of things to really help students, especially first generation students, and students of color who, as Jesse mentioned, are hit the hardest with the student debt crisis.

DAVE BRIGGS: And Jesse, of course it's your acting career that helps bring attention to this important issue in the country. I do want to ask you about that. Season 18 of "Grey's" wraps on May 26. And Dr. Jackson Avery returns. This is a job that a lot of people were doing this in the pandemic, quitting a job and then returning to it. What brought you back? And how emotional is that experience? You spent 12 years there.

JESSE WILLIAMS: Yeah, yes. I'm going to reappear for that final episode. It's also 400th episode. So it's a real landmark for a historic show. And I'm showing my appreciation by making an appearance and reconnecting with old friends and coworkers. And it was lucky enough, we're on Broadway right now, with "Take Me Out". And I had one day off. So I was able to sneak back and give them a day of work. And it was really wonderful to do that for the fans while also being out here on stage.

DAVE BRIGGS: You mentioned "Take Me Out". And you received a Tony nomination for best performance for your work in that Broadway show. Congratulations. You said you needed to get out of your comfort zone. You certainly did that. How terrifying is that experience? You're up there, you're live. You see your audience. There is nudity involved. This is way, way out of your comfort zone. Is there something that we can all take from that experience of getting out from that comfort zone?

JESSE WILLIAMS: There is-- it did take some temerity there. It also, what it does remind me of is teaching. When I was a teacher, you're in ahead of-- in front of a room, in front of a bunch of people that might not necessarily want to be there. You've got to keep them entertained, and engaged, and inspired, and come up with creative new ideas live on the fly, and be able to be present, and connect, and feel the tone, and space of the room.

So there is a familial-- a familiar skill set there that which is something that connects directly to what inspired me so much about joining forces with Chris and Scholly actually.

DAVE BRIGGS: If you want to get in on that 100K, it's myscholly.com/jesse. Jesse Williams, Christopher Gray, appreciate you both. Thanks so much.