Although he doesn’t think of himself as a philanthropist, Erran Briggs ’14 embodies the 2023 theme of Black Philanthropy Month, Love in Action.
“I tell people all the time that love is a verb,” Briggs said. “If you love, it involves action. I don’t think you can have love without action, because they are one and the same and encompassing.”
Briggs lives his philanthropy by mentoring and advising people in whose shoes he has been: high school students from his hometown of Muskegon, Michigan, who are applying to college; K students, particularly those who are considering a path like his, taking advantage of military scholarships to get to medical school; and younger medical residents, especially Black male residents.
“Life is in part based on what you do, how you prepare for opportunities, but I think a big piece of it is, do you land in places where the people around you want to pour into you and help you grow?” Briggs said. “One of the things that I’ve tried to keep with me as I left K is, just like so many people helped me, I need to make sure that I’m doing something to help the people around me, particularly the people who look like me, because they’re facing the same sort of roadblocks. I know how powerful it can be to have somebody believe in you and push you and help you.”
Love in action drives Briggs’ dedication to mentoring.
“I am acutely aware that, particularly in medicine, there are not enough people that look like me,” Briggs said. “The studies suggest that when folks have doctors they can see themselves in, doctors that look like them, their health outcomes are better. We need to do what we can to improve the numbers. I love my people, I want to see other Black men get into the field, and with that love comes action, responsibility and a sense of duty.”
In addition to mentoring, Briggs has given his time by serving on the Kalamazoo College Board of Trustees from 2020-2023. That experience provided him with a reason to visit campus and an opportunity to see current students, professors and building projects at the same time as it challenged him to reconsider what philanthropy can be.
“I still don’t really consider myself a philanthropist,” Briggs said. “I think the misconception—and perhaps I’m also a victim to this—is that to be a philanthropist, you have to give large amounts of money. I’ve found over the years that’s not true; you give what you can give, and over time, you’re able to give more as you get more. Being on the board and being a part of that group of people who are older and farther in their careers, that inspired me and pushed me to think about how important giving is and to prioritize it in my life.”
According to a report from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Black households give a larger portion of their wealth to charity than any other racial group, prioritizing giving despite the racial wealth gap—a statistic that evokes pride for Briggs.
Black Philanthropy Month
August is Black Philanthropy Month, which honors Black philanthropists all around the world and celebrates their gifts of time, talent and treasure to positively impact communities. Kalamazoo College would like to mark this month by recognizing one of our own donors and highlighting why they prioritize giving—both to K and beyond.
“From my perspective, when you’ve been the person on the receiving end of somebody’s generosity, and then you get something that you can give back, I think the sense of duty is a little bit stronger—at least that’s what I felt personally,” Briggs said. “I’ve been the person who needed those need-based scholarships. I needed those endowment funds that folks have started to help out people who look like me. I’m sensitive to that fact, and that’s been the biggest driver for me, that somebody helped me, so I should try to help when I can.”
Briggs and his wife, Nicole (Antoine) Briggs ’14, have three main organizations they target with their philanthropy: Doctors Without Borders, the Jarrad D. Blade Foundation Scholarship and Kalamazoo College. In addition, they have helped specific people in various ways, including paying for medical school applications and assisting with travel costs for interviews.
“I give to Doctors Without Borders every month,” Briggs said. “I think they are an important organization with a good mission.”
The Jarrad D. Blade Foundation Scholarship honors a man who was in a relationship with Briggs’ sister-in-law when the two of them were in a car that was hit by a drunk driver.
“He ended up passing away, and his family started an organization in his name,” Briggs said. “They raise money to help young Black kids go to college, and we contribute to them every year.”
Briggs chooses to give to K in gratitude for the experiences he received and a desire to help provide similar experiences for other students.
A chemistry major, Briggs played football all four years, played intramural basketball and participated in the Black Student Organization. Along with two friends, he started the Young Men of Color student organization to offer support, brotherhood and education.
He performed research at K and volunteered at local hospitals. For his Senior Integrated Project, he spent three months at University of Maryland, Baltimore County conducting HIV research.
“When I was going on my SIP, I didn’t have enough money to travel, and I was able to tap into this special fund with the help of President [Eileen] Wilson-Oyelaran to give me a stipend to travel,” Briggs said. “It’s not just the academic piece of affording tuition, room and board; it’s also when you can’t afford to take an unpaid internship because you need to make money, or you want to travel for research or for an externship, but you don’t have the funds to travel—things like that are an important piece of the K-Plan as well. Folks whose parents are financially able traditionally have more access to those extra things, and giving back, my hope is to try to even the playing field.”
The close relationships with faculty made K special for Briggs.
“I went to an inner-city high school that I don’t think prepared me well enough for college. When I got there, I was behind a lot of the other students, but I had professors who saw something in me. They voiced that to me, and they were encouraging. They pointed me in the direction where I could get help. They met with me frequently, made sure that I was doing okay and staying on track.”
Paul Sotherland, professor emeritus of biology; Regina Stevens-Truss, Dorothy Heyl Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry; Laura Furge, former chemistry professor; and Greg Slough, professor emeritus of chemistry were especially influential for Briggs.
“These people nurtured me and helped me to succeed at K,” Briggs said.
After graduating from K, Briggs joined the military and completed medical school at Indiana University in Indianapolis. He credits K with making that feel easy.
“I was used to studying to a level that I don’t think folks at other colleges, particularly the large public universities, are expected to do. I came in with that sort of mentality and that study habit, and I hit the ground running and I excelled.”
Briggs served a residency in internal medicine at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, and currently has one year left on a fellowship in pulmonary critical care at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he continues to lean on his K experiences.
“I think at least half of medicine is people and relationships and knowing how to talk to people and how to explain things to people at a level that they can understand,” he said. “K prepared me well for that. The way K is set up allowed me to take a good number of classes outside of the chemistry department, and I tried to take classes in areas that would help make me a strong writer and communicator.”
With a daughter heading into high school and sons who are 2 and 4 years old, Briggs finds that being a husband, father and doctor fills most of his time. He also prioritizes involvement in professional societies related to medicine as well as exercising and staying active—and, of course, always mentoring and supporting those following in his footsteps, smoothing and lighting the way for them.
“K is a special place to me,” Briggs said. “It helped me to become the person that I am, and I don’t think my life would have unfolded the way it has if I didn’t go to K. It’s important to me as a gratitude piece to give back for what it has given me. I want to help make K possible for students like me because it really is a life-transforming experience. What inspires me to give back is what K gave me, wanting to see other students have access to that, and then having good examples. Those folks on the board who have become friends of mine, they lead by example, and I want to go down that pathway as well.”