Last Bison Standing has an Instagram following of more than 34,000 people, and uses their platform to assist with donations for cancer patients, provide financial assistance to students and support numerous other projects that connect past and future generations of Bison.
Last Bison Standing was created by Howard alumnus King Griffin, who graduated from the School of Communications in 2012. The idea began while Griffin worked on a project with the Aaron Bonner Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to a close friend who died from cancer in 2008.
The foundation routinely participated in an annual event called “Relay for Life,” which was in collaboration with the American Cancer Society and held on Howard’s campus. Participants engaged in a 24-hour event that included walking around a track with games, raffles and food to keep them awake. The proceeds went towards aid for cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.
“The idea behind it is that cancer never sleeps, so for one night, everybody stays up. They do it at different universities, but we were always having trouble getting people to stay until the end [of the competition],” Griffin said.
To encourage engagement and participation during the event, Griffin introduced a concept called “Last Bison Standing.” The person who remained awake the longest would receive a red Howard crewneck sweatshirt. These sweatshirts grew in popularity around campus after Drake donned a red Howard crewneck during his performance at Howard’s Homecoming in 2012.
Griffin used the frenzy as a way to expand on his brand, ultimately securing a merchandising license in 2014 and broadening his Howard apparel to include signature hoodies, t-shirts, bodysuits and varsity throwback jackets. They then used the proceeds to provide community-based assistance.
To keep true to their original mission, Griffin also created a co-sponsored initiative called Bison Against Breast Cancer to support Howard moms, aunts and sisters that may be facing a terminal diagnosis. According to Griffin, during the 2021-2022 school year, the proceeds of the project went to cancer care packages, rent assistance, mortgage assistance donations and burial assistance donations to families in need. The campaign raised $47,525.27.
In his current role as founder of Last Bison Standing, Griffin primarily serves as an advisor to student representatives, or ambassadors, of the organization. Last Bison Standing is funded by both apparel and fundraising sales, but their assistance is always financial based. When there are no fundraisers or donations, the organization relies mostly on apparel sales. When apparel sales are low, “mustard seed donations” fill the gap.
“We have donors that like to pay for first generation students, and others that like to pay for people from their city. It gives an opportunity for alumni and community members to get involved,” Griffin said. According to their website, 13% of Last Bison’s Standing’s royalties go to Howard for each product sold.
Over the years, Last Bison Standing has created and supported multiple initiatives to financially assist students. This first started in August 2018 after Carol Dudley, a well known and beloved staff member at the School of Communications, suddenly received news that she was fired from her position at Howard. The Howard community started an uproar on social media, causing her to trend on Twitter.
After connecting with Dudley, the organization learned that Dudley didn’t want an endowment with the school – she wanted to help students in real time. As a solution, Last Bison Standing established an emergency fund for students in her honor through donations and merchandise sales. On Aug. 27, 2018, Dudley received a new position at Howard in the Career Development Office.
Last Bison Standing has since continued their tradition of helping students with emergency funds. Their Cap and Gown Initiative helps finance seniors who may not be able to spend $100 on graduation attire. In 2022-2023, the organization paid for 27 caps and gowns. They also were able to financially support their senior ambassadors, Aaron Bonner scholars and supporters who have made purchases from their freshman to senior years.
Makeeda Bandele-Asante, a Howard alumna that graduated in 2023, first heard of Last Bison Standing as an incoming freshman in 2018. “I was in a rigorous academic program and I wasn’t able to work much, which affected my ability to afford student expenses. Last Bison Standing helped to clear my balances at the end of my matriculation, and connected me to short term housing during a big transition,” Bandele-Asante said.
Brandon Henry, a Howard alumnus that graduated in 2023, received tuition assistance from Last Bison Standing after falling behind financially his senior year. “It ended up being through Last Bison Standing and local church leaders in D.C. that I was able to graduate. That was really important to me,” Henry said.
According to Griffin, the essence of Last Bison Standing lies in its commitment to service. He believes that during one’s time at Howard, they experience the bond of the Black community and everything it encompasses.
Griffin further explains, “We started alongside other organizations, other giving organizations, fundraising organizations, and we’re the only one still standing…every time something happens, like when people try to tear us down, we’re still standing, still here, still going.”
In the fabric of Howard University’s rich history, Last Bison Standing is a thread that has woven together stories of support and unity within the Bison family and continues to do so.
Copy edited by Jasper Smith