Photo caption: Benjamin Sands holding the original saxophone sponsored by his SWNA scholarship.


Photo caption: Scholarship alumni (L to R): Kirstin Jones, Jamal Jones, Mary Early, and Rhonda Hamilton.


Photo caption: 2016 scholarship recipients (front row L to R): Nicolas Moses, Alysha Berry, Haili Blassingame, and Kiana Livingston. (Back row L to R): Tantania Brown, Gary Hill, Tiffany Livingston, and Phillip O’Sullivan.

Photos courtesy of Perry Klein.

On Sunday, July 10, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly’s (SWNA’s) Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF) awarded 17 Southwest youths with college scholarships. The event, “Celebrating 42 Years of Awarding College Scholarships,” was also a reunion of alumni scholarship recipients.

In her opening remarks, Thelma D. Jones, mistress of ceremonies and chairperson of the SWNA Youth Activities Task Force (YATF), said that she felt honored to be the emcee of the program having worked closely with some of the scholarship recipients since they were 12 years old or younger in the YATF Computer-for-Kids program. “To see the youth come full circle speaks volumes about SWNA and the community support from generous individuals like you and local businesses,” she said.

Kirstin L. Jones, a task force member and alumna, brought a warm welcome to the 60 attendees at Westminster Church and thanked the task force for awarding her with a scholarship five years ago. “I am happy to serve on the task force now and give back to my community just like the task force gave to me,” she said.

Bruce A. Levine, president of SWNA, gave a brief history of the scholarship program, noting that almost 200 students living in DC zip code 20024 have received awards to attend colleges or technical institutions over the program’s 42-year history. He stressed the importance of an education as the best way for young people to achieve a successful and rewarding life and emphasized that of all the work SWNA and its various task forces do, nothing is more important than what the ESTF does to help SWNA fulfill its mission of enhancing the quality of life for residents in Southwest DC.

Current scholarship recipients shared their talents with the audience during the program. Jada B. Miles, a 2016 graduate of Duke Ellington School of the Arts and a 2016 scholarship recipient, performed a rousing tap dance that earned applause from the audience several times. She will major in business management at Dean College in Franklin, Mass., and aspires to pursue a career in dance.

Kiana B. Livingston presented a poem that she was inspired to write in the wake of the recent police killings of young African-American men. The poem voiced her fear that any day the life of one of her cousins or best friends could suddenly and senselessly be taken away and questioned whether the police see the values of black lives. Kiana is a 2015 and 2016 scholarship recipient and a rising sophomore at SUNY Purchase in Purchase, NY.

Task force member Delmar Weathers presented SWNA Alumni Reunion (SAR) Awards to Rhonda Hamilton and Benjamin C. Sands, Jr. Rhonda Hamilton received an award for her years of persistent and prolonged service in the Southwest community. She is a resident of Syphax Gardens and president of the Syphax Gardens Resident Council, a position previously held by her mother. She has spent the last 10 years as a strong advocate for voiceless Southwest residents, tirelessly helping to improve their quality of life. Ever concerned about Southwest residents, Hamilton is currently a leader in addressing environmental issues that negatively impact the Southwest community and is a force to be reckoned with in her position as a well-respected ANC6D commissioner.

Benjamin C. Sands, Jr. is a musician, music educator, and visual artist who has also made major accomplishments in acting, theater, and play writing. He received recognition from the task force for teaching, mentoring, and nurturing young people in the DC community. He entertained the audience with saxophone and piano performances of his original compositions and credited the scholarships he received 1975-1977 for helping finance his college education and making it possible for him to buy a saxophone.

Thelma D. Jones praised both Hamilton and Sands as “…wonderful examples of the sound investment the community has made in them, as they’ve never stop heeding our calls or giving back generously to the community.” Other alumni members in attendance were Jamal Jones and Mary Early. N’Dieye Gray Danavall, a digital media artist who lives in Jonesboro, Ga., sent greetings in a video presentation.

Task force co-chair Audrey Hinton introduced the scholarship recipients and praised them for their exemplary character, leadership skills, scholarship, and commitment to family and community service. The students’ proud parents and other family members were asked to stand to be recognized as the students were applauded and presented with a laminated certificate of congratulations for their academic achievement. The 17 SWNA scholarship recipients for 2016 are: Haili Blassingame, Alysha Berry, Tantania Brown, Roman P. Hamilton, Natehya Hardison, Gary T. Hill, Kiana B. Livingston, Tiffany R. Livingston, Lavance Parks, Jada Miles, Asha R. Marshall, Marlon Mitchell, Nicolas Moses, Najma A. Pettiford, Tsahai A. Pettiford, Attalah A. Shabazz, and Phillip O’Sullivan.

In her closing remarks, task force co-chair Vyllorya Evans expressed her appreciation for the support the ESTF has received from the Southwest community over the past 42 years. She acknowledged the people and organizations that have donated $1,000 or more for the 2016 scholarships. They are: Friends of Southwest DC, JMA Solutions, Gangplank Association, and Camille Cook.

Co-chair Evans also gave special thanks for support to the Southwest Neighborhood Library, Westminster Church, the National Congress of Black Women, Inc., the Anacostia Community Museum, the Southwest Business Improvement District, task force committee members (Rick Bardach, Kendra Bellamy, Nanette Cothran, Cheryl Hansberry Moore, Peri Hamlin, Thelma D. Jones, Dale MacIver, Dena Walker, Delmar Weathers, Bianca Kersellius, Kirstin L. Jones, and Kathy Williams), and other volunteers.

In the end, Evans informed the audience that the task force is still accepting donations so that it can fulfill its goal of giving each of the 17 students a $1500 scholarship. If you are interested in making a tax deductible donation to this worthy cause, please make your check payable to SWNA and mail it to: SWNA Scholarship Fund, PO Box 70131, Washington, DC 20024.

By: Audrey Hinton

Co-chair, SWNA Education and Scholarship Task Force

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