Recent Westerville graduates set up scholarship for fellow students of color
Recent Westerville grads set up scholarship for fellow students of color
The Columbus Dispatch
When protests against police brutality and systemic racism broke out nationwide last summer, Westerville was among the communities where people held rallies and put up Black Lives Matters signs.
Some teens in the northern suburb wanted to do more, though, to create lasting change.
A year later, they’re seeing that change in action as a group of recent graduates of Westerville City Schools helped raise enough money to award three $1,500 scholarships to high school students of color within the district. It’s called the “One Westerville Scholarship.”
“The scholarship idea, for me, provides longevity,” said Ameena Freeman, a 19-year-old who graduated from Westerville North High School in 2020 and helped lead the effort.
She and her partner in the endeavor, Alice Stevenson, a 2019 North graduate, know how important every dollar can be in college, especially for minorities.
“We didn’t want some student of color to not be able to go to school because they might need an extra $1,500 or $1,000 to walk in the door," Stevenson said.
One student at each of the district's three high schools received a scholarship based on academics, personal essay and need. This year's winners are Emmanuel Okyere of Westerville South High School, Chiedza Guyo of Westerville Central and Damiya Martin of Westerville North.
Turning anger at George Floyd murder into something positive
Freeman said her “blood boiled” with anger after watching George Floyd be murdered in Minnesota last year, and she wasn’t sure how to channel that into something positive.
She tapped some high school administrators and friends — including Stevenson — to help her come up with some ideas on how to promote change on a meaningful level. The scholarship concept seemed like the ideal pursuit.
Through T-shirt sales and a few other fundraisers, the two young women — and their friends — raised about $2,500. Freeman just finished up her freshman year studying emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Stevenson is a rising junior majoring in public health at Kent State University.
Then Neighborhood Bridges, a Westerville-based nonprofit that supports all sorts of charitable giving, offered to host the scholarship fund for future disbursements and match this year’s contributions.
Freeman said it was amazing to see how the community came together to support them in their mission and in turn help Black and brown students in Westerville.
“We’ve watched a beautiful thing come to life,” Freeman said.
Scholarship helps Black, brown students in Westerville connect with others
The three recipients of the scholarship couldn’t stress enough how this money — and the connection with other students of color it brings — means to them.
Receiving the scholarship has helped Westerville South senior Okyere to feel not so alone.
“Westerville is not a place that is filled with people of color,” said Okyere, a native of Ghana, who will be attending Bowdoin College in Maine this fall. “It’s great to have someone there for you and great to have people looking out for you.”
Westerville Central’s winner Guyo echoed those sentiments.
“It’s so cool that students started this,” said Guyo, who will use the scholarship to buy books as she begins her studies this fall at the University of Cincinnati to become a pharmacist. “It feels good to have that student-to student connection. They were really just in our shoes.”
In Damiya Martin’s application essay, she wrote how she wanted to study criminal justice to eventually become a defense attorney to help marginalized communities.
“I want to be a lawyer for those who can’t afford one, and a lot of times that’s people in the Black community,” said Martin, Westerville North’s recipient who will attend Ohio State University in the fall. “I don’t want to see that anymore.”
Freeman said that being a part of gifting these scholarships has allowed her heart to heal a bit and to not feel so helpless.
“It’s brought a lot of peace to me – that I’m doing good, that I’m giving back,” Freeman said. “A weight in my chest has been lifted.”
Stevenson said the whole process has taught her that one person – even a teenager – can have a large impact.
They hope that it will be a long-lasting one and already are planning how to raise funds for next year’s recipients.
“We do have a ground foundation so we’re set up for next year,” Stevenson said. “Now, it’s back to the grind of fundraising.”