By Una Yarsky

The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly’s (SWNA) Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF) has reached its 50th continuous year of awarding post-secondary education scholarships to students who live in our Waterfront Neighborhood. The program began in 1974 as a small initiative, when residents of River Park Cooperative raised funds that helped three youth in our neighborhood attend college. The following year the scholarship program officially became part of SWNA, encouraged by one of the original River Park funders, who was also active in the organization. Since then, ESTF has awarded 599 scholarships to 261 Southwest residents, providing more than $580,000.

This year we celebrate seven college graduates who earned SWNA scholarship awards. The scholarship encourages Southwest students to achieve their goals during their time at university and awards scholarships throughout their time at school. The graduates for the 2023 school year are: Sam Anderson, Gabriella Grimaldi, Steven Guo, Christopher Johnson, SaDaja Keith, Kendall Park, and Dayonna Queen. Both Sam Anderson and Christopher Johnson finished their undergraduate work in 2021 and this was the year they earned Masters Degrees.  Congratulations to each student!

Sam Anderson graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, MN in 2021 with a Bachelor of Arts in Geology. This year he worked on his Masters in Earth Science at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. One of Sam’s projects as a student is a geological survey of our Waterfront neighborhood. He feels both of his parents have influenced him even though his mother didn’t feel she gained much from having gone to college. His father thought a good education could get you to Mars. Sam is spending this summer finishing his thesis and job hunting.

Gabriella Grimaldi graduated from George Washington University where she majored in psychology with a double minor in communications and fine arts. She chose these areas of study, having been influenced by both of her parents, that whatever course her life took, she needed to understand people from various cultures and how to communicate with them. She is now spending her time by continuing her volunteer work in the community while she searches for work. Her ideal job would be as a researcher in a global marketing team where she could work behind the scenes.

Steven Guo graduated from George Washington University with a major in Chemistry and minor in psychological and brain sciences. After graduating, Steven will head to Virginia Commonwealth University to start an accelerated nursing program, where he will receive a bachelor’s of science in nursing. He hopes to become a nurse practitioner but above all else hopes to improve the lives of others. Steven has been most inspired by his father, particularly his father’s hard work ethic. At GW, Steven learned the importance of adaptation and change. He believes in the importance of seeing university as a place of exploration and the enjoyment of learning. One of the greatest challenges he faced was academic burnout, which he managed to recover from by practicing self-care and engaging in his community. One of the most rewarding experiences he had in undergrad was shadowing nurses at George Washington University Hospital, where he first discovered his passion for medicine and nursing. Guo hopes he can best contribute to his parents and community by dedicating himself to everything he does.

Christopher Johnson attended Fayetteville State University and graduated with a masters degree in social work with a specialization in children and families. He plans on helping youth who are finishing high school plan out their future; whether it is college, the military, or straight into the workforce. Christopher’s biggest influences throughout his time at school have been SWNA task force members John White and Rick Bardash. During his program, Christopher completed community service in events like the Homeless Stand Down event, where he learned about resources for homeless people in the area. Christopher was awarded the Distinguished Leadership Award for his service to his residential community as an RA. His time as an RA gave him the opportunity to work with others as they navigated the challenges of completing an undergraduate degree. Christopher says the best lesson he has learned is to meet people where they are and help them in the best way possible. In the future, Christopher hopes to continue working with youth in his community and to share the importance of having a support system.

SaDaja Keith graduated from the University of District of Columbia (UDC) with a degree in biology. In August, SaDaja will obtain her MAT Masters of Art in teaching with a concentration in biology. She eventually hopes to pursue another masters in Physician Assistance after working as a science teacher. During her time in undergrad, SaDaja volunteered at SOME and is a member of the LGBTQ Alliance council at UDC. SaDaja’s greatest influences have been her family as well as herself. During her time at university, SaDaja has learned that success is not linear. She aspires to set goals and reach them no matter what.

Kendall Park graduated from Jackson State University with a degree in Meteorology. Currently, he works full time at the Jackson Weather Station in a position he started as a student. As an undergraduate, Kendall participated in an internship that provided virtual training in atmospheric science research. Kendall first became interested in Meteorology in third grade, when his teacher took students outside to study clouds. He hopes to continue the legacy of other black meteorologists such as Al Roker. In the future, Kendall hopes to become Dr. Parks “The Weatherman.”

Dayonna Queen graduated from the University of Hartford with a double major in Criminal Justice and Sociology. She plans on pursuing a career in crime analysis and criminal investigation as a researcher. Dayonna hopes to pursue two master’s degrees and certifications in order to advance her career. She hopes to write about how different criminological theories relate to the lives of Black Americans. Her greatest influence throughout her journey as a student has been her parents. The greatest lesson she learned during her time at university is that it is okay to ask for help. As a freshman, she struggled to speak in class and present during group discussions. However, she learned to improve on her public speaking skills throughout her time at university. She hopes to contribute to her community in the future by doing her best and giving back to those in need. 

SWNA applauds each of these graduates and hopes to see them grow and succeed after their time at university. SWNA is currently accepting donations to help other students complete their college careers and thrive, both during and after their education. To support future SWNA graduates, you can make a tax-deductible donation by check to the SWNA Scholarship Fund at PO Box 70131, Washington, DC 2002. Please put “scholarship” in the subject line.
Are you a Southwest resident pursuing a college education? SWNA’s Scholarship Fund is accepting applications until June 30, 2023. We now include the Coralie Farlee Graduate School Scholarship as one of our offerings. See the one page ad for this Scholarship, promoted by Friends of Southwest, in the June edition of The Southwester featuring our first recipient.  Apply online, make donations, and learn more at

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