Roots of the S.W.A.G. Awards derived from a long-term friendship

Michigan Chronicle publisher and Real Times Media CEO Hiram Jackson (far left) and Chemical Bank Board Chairman Gary Torgow (far right).

A good friend is a connection to life, a tie to the past, and a road to the future. That is the story of Michigan Chronicle publisher and Real Times Media CEO Hiram Jackson and Chemical Bank Board Chairman Gary Torgow. Their friendship, which started over 20 years ago, led to the creation of the S.W.A.G. Awards. Which stands for Students Wired for Achievement and Greatness.
“I’ve known Gary for at least 25 years,” said Jackson. “From time to time, we’ve done projects together and most of the projects have been community-based. One day, we sat down, and he expressed interest in doing an impactful project around education. At the time, the bank wanted to build its brand within city limits and be supportive of families. So, we thought this would be a way to have an impact on families and help children who set education as a priority.”
The S.W.A.G. Awards, which started four years ago, gives scholarship grants to deserving students in metro Detroit. With the rising cost of college tuition, many students in Detroit are discouraged from pursuing a degree or some form of higher education because it is too expensive. The Michigan Chronicle and Chemical Bank’s alliance is dedicated to investing in students who strive to excel educationally, encouraging students who have at least a 2.5 GPA, and have demonstrated a commitment to community service and integrity to apply.
“So many kids have opportunities but there are so many that are left behind,” Torgow said. “They don’t get the resources that they need in order to attend college or even trade school. We thought the S.W.A.G. Awards would be a good way to help.”
Giving back to Detroit-area students is not what Jackson and Torgow do. It is who they are. Torgow is now the chairman of the largest headquartered bank in Michigan. He is the grandson of a Russian immigrant, who valued privilege and opportunity, and helping others. Jackson is from Highland Park, Michigan and grew up in a one-bedroom apartment with four other people. He was able to attend Detroit Country Day and Cornell but was once one of the students he now helps to strive for better.
“I’m a product of people reaching back,” said Jackson. “I believe that it takes just one person to create something special in your life. When you do this community-based stuff, it should be with a goal of reaching one child or one individual. And my life was impacted by people who decided to do something for the community. I was the beneficiary of stuff like this when I was younger. I’ve seen the benefits of how a motivating factor can work.”
A friendship that started off as business, with Jackson renting a space from Torgow, gradually transformed into a personal relationship between the two. They have been involved in many charitable and civic pursuits together, from sitting with former President Bill Clinton and other senators and congressmen, to donating over $30,000 in grant money over the years through the S.W.A.G Awards. They knew the potential for a bigger relationship was always there and they admire each other’s passion to give back to the community.
“Hiram’s passion to help kids in the city is extremely admirable and comes from a good place,” said Torgow. “We both were once young business entrepreneurs coming up in Detroit and then we developed a primary interest to uplift young people in Detroit, excelling in their studies and extracurricular activities, and to help give them a boost to their next educational opportunity. Whatever events we did together, we’ve always been able to keep our friendship intact.”
“It is a part of Gary’s business plan to supportive of people less-fortunate than him. He believes that it should be an innate kind of thing where you give back. I’ve always admired his willingness to assist people when they were in need and I can say that he is one of my dear friends.”

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