Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room presented the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) with a $50,000 scholarship fund on Jan. 31 at CCP’s Winnet Student Life Building lobby. The scholarships from it will go to LGBTQ+ students as well as students from underrepresented backgrounds. An additional $5,000 was also given to be used at the college’s discretion.
“We are literally witnessing in real time a distinct collaboration between the Community College of Philadelphia and our foundation and Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room coming together today in this moment to create this amazing opportunity for us,” said Dr. Mellissia M. Zanjani, executive director of the Community College of Philadelphia Foundation and vice president for Institutional Advancement.
She continued, “The Ed Hermance Scholarship holds the promise of transforming lives by providing much-needed financial assistance to incoming and current students. Let’s be clear. The scholarship is more than about financial contribution, about financial support. It is a symbol of shared values and a deep commitment to inclusivity.”
Dr. Alycia A. Marshall, provost and vice president of Academic and Student Success at CCP echoed these sentiments by saying, “The bookstore continues to grow its mission and remains a steadfast source of support as it works to improve the lives of the citizens, which aligns with the college’s goals of expanding access to higher education for all.”
“Students understand that the establishment of a scholarship means that someone believes in you and in your future. Sometimes, that’s the only difference between success and not,” she added.
The scholarship is named after Ed Hermance, the longtime owner and proprietor of Giovonni’s Room.
Opening its doors in 1973, Giovonni’s Room is the oldest continuously run queer and feminist bookstore in the United States. Hermance took over ownership of the store in 1976, alongside Arleen Olshan. During the AIDS crisis, the bookstore became a place of support for the community.
In 2014, the store briefly closed after Hermance announced his retirement. This was in part due to declining sales and building repairs. Eventually, Philly AIDS Thrift stepped in and bought the bookstore, reopening it later that year as Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room.
Michael Byrne, board president of Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, explained in his speech that last year the board was looking for ways to expand their mission in ways that “acknowledge our stewardship of the now oldest, continuously operating LGBT bookstore in North America.”
“Our co-founder Christina Kallas-Saritsoglou dreamt of a scholarship fund,” Byrne said. “When we started imagining what that could be, we thought back to our own experiences as LGBTQ individuals. I know for myself, being marginalized and bullied in middle school and in high school led me to not achieving what I might have had, had I not had those experiences. When going to college, I needed to do some college studies to ready myself and be accepted to the school of my choice.”
After his speech, he spoke to PGN about how happy the board is about making a positive impact on the academic journeys of LGBTQ+ students.
“We want to be part of the community that says anything’s possible,” he said, adding that he went back to school in his 50s and is on his third career. “Anything’s possible. You can be anything you want. All you have to do is dream it. And to be able to back that up with some funding that might help somebody’s dream become real is phenomenal to us.”
He also shared that the reason the board picked CCP to be the recipient of the scholarship fund is that for many people, the school serves as a launching pad, either for life or future schooling.