Scholars pose with members of the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly’s Education and Scholarship Task Force and sponsors at the 49th annual awards ceremony. Courtesy of Perry Klein.

By Wilma Goldstein

The Southwest Neighborhood Assembly’s (SWNA) Education and Scholarship Task Force (ESTF) held its 49th annual awards ceremony and gave out college scholarships to 32 recipients, all of whom either live in zip code 20024 or attend Richard Wright Public Charter School, which is now located in 20024. For the first time since the pandemic confined us to our homes, a hybrid ceremony was held with the in-person celebration on August 7th at Westminster Church, where we were welcomed back by an audience of 80, including students, their families and friends. An additional group of 30 watched on Zoom and that combination resulted in one of the records that was broken, giving us a total audience of 110, an all-time high. 

Audrey Hinton, ESTF member and chair of this year’s Scholarship Awards Celebration, welcomed attendees by informing them that the program would indeed be a celebration. “This year, the Task Force will award scholarships to 32 students,” Hinton said. “That’s more students and more money than we’ve ever given away in our 49 years of awarding scholarships!  

After her welcoming remarks, Hinton introduced Donna Purchase, President of SWNA, who appeared virtually. Purchase noted that this was a record-breaking year for the Scholarship Fund at every level. “We are very proud of you and look forward to watching you soar,” she told the students.

This year’s awards were given to 15 first time scholars, 16 returning scholars and the first scholar to receive a graduate school scholarship from SWNA partners Friends of Southwest (FOS). The FOS scholarship for graduate study is named after the late Southwest community activist Coralie Farlee, and the inaugural award was presented to graduate scholar Julia Benedith (UW-Stevens Point).

Awardees included first time scholars LaDawnah Best (Florida A&M), Sabrina Burton (UDC), Daniel Dandridge (UDC), Tyauna Gray (Clark-Atlanta), Asha Haddox-Rossiter (Ohio State), Isaac Holt (Beloit), SaDaja Keith (UDC), Makhi Lawson (UDC), Alexander O’Sullivan (Yale), Amaya Randolph (Fayetteville State), Charles Smith (George Mason), Shakiya St. John (Johnson C. Smith), Amani Walker (Delaware State), Adrionna Williams (Elizabeth City State), Breanna Wynn (Kent State). Returning scholars were Dia’Mynn Brown (Bowie State), Cedric Caschetta (WV State) Gabriella Grimaldi (GW), Steven Guo (GW), Dehja Harris (Trinity DC), Eleanor Holt (Clark-MA), Sydney King (Xavier-LA), Nour Mahmoud (VA Commonwealth), Jackson Muise (BU), Kendall Parks (Jackson State),  Dayonna Queen (U of Hartford), Shaniah Robin (UDC), Aidan Smith (GW), Jordan Watson (VA State), Aaliyah Wilkinson (VA State), Una Yarsky (UMD-Baltimore).

The 32 scholarships delivered another record-breaking moment, as the previous high for total scholarships presented was 24. 

Task Force member Bonita White, herself an ESTF major donor, spoke to the group on the value of being a contributor, sharing that she was able to complete her college studies debt-free because of scholarships. She noted that the value was not just the money, but having the support of a close-knit community. She encouraged those who had yet to give to become a donor for this year’s effort. We also heard from Laura Howell, a new Task Force member, on the importance of small donors. Howell told the audience how she gives monthly, using her bank in the same way she pays her bills, establishing an amount to be deducted each month for a contribution to ESTF.  She encouraged them to do the same. In a year of affordable monthly deductions, a small donor could easily become a major donor.

A matching funds challenge for $1,500 was set for the event. Due to the generosity of our attendees, we not only matched that amount, we exceeded it! This was another record breaker of the day.

Two of our scholars provided entertainment during the ceremony. Richard Wright Public Charter School graduate Amani Walker sang “Heaven” and was accompanied on piano by Noah Blair.  Asha Haddox-Rossiter, Duke Ellington School of the Arts 2022 graduate, sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” A grateful audience enjoyed these two lovely interludes.

Thelma D. Jones, who has chaired several SWNA Task Forces and is now leading the Youth Activities Task Force, introduced our keynote speaker, Eric Smith. Smith joined ESTF this year and was recently appointed co-chair to serve with Vyllorya Evans. Smith is a Southwest resident and believes in giving back to the community.  He sponsored both the awards ceremony and a pizza party held the week before at Waterfront Park, where the scholars, their friends and families, donors, and Task Force members were able to meet each other. ESTF is fortunate to be a recipient of his generosity.

Smith directed his message, “Tips for Your Journey,” to the scholarship recipients and praised them for their accomplishments, while also providing specific tips that were relevant to where they are in their journey of life. He urged the recipients to: (1) do what you need to do and you can do what you want to do; (2) work hard now; (3) seek perspective, not validation; and (4) establish your dreams and never lose focus.

Smith, following his own advice after working for the federal government, decided he wanted to be his own boss. So he co-founded TISTA Science & Technology Corporation, which contracts with over 32 government agencies and employs over 2000 people. 

Task Force member Carolyn Harvin introduced Peter Eicher, President of Friends of Southwest DC (FOS), a scholarship partner for more than 20 years. This year FOS decided to fund the same four scholars as the last two years, Peter Guo, Eleanor Holt, Sydney King, and Aidan Smith.  FOS for the first time created a scholarship for graduate studies which they awarded to Julia Benedith, who will use her scholarship as she pursues a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, in Educational Sustainability.  The scholarship was created to honor the founder and longtime president of FOS, Dr. Coralie Farlee, who passed away in 2020. 

“Coralie was deeply committed to Southwest DC,” Eicher said. “Her countless activities on behalf of Southwest epitomized the qualities of service, activism, and altruism. She was an especially strong proponent of higher education, which is why we created a scholarship in her name.”  FOS and ESTF are excited about the first graduate school scholarship and hope it opens the door for more scholarships for graduate study.

Perry Klein, who chairs the SWNA Technology Task Force, informed the students that his assistants have refurbished donated laptop computers that are being offered for free to them. Noah Matthews, a high school student, worked on this project and refurbished around 70 desktop computers. Matthews was introduced at the meeting and served as one of the photographers for the awards ceremony. Perry and Sue Klein’s granddaughter, Kyra, refurbished all 65 laptops, and it was noted that she completed this when she was only 8 and 9 years old!

The highlight of the afternoon arrived when co-chairs of the scholarship selection process, Task Force members Rick Bardach and Delmar Weathers, gave out scholarship certificates to our 32 scholars. That brings our total to 261 students who have received scholarships since 1974, the first year of scholarships, and we are still counting the contributions that continue to come in for 2022 to add to the $515,000 raised through 2021.

Another first for 2022 was the Special Recognition Awards. The winners included former scholar Grace Mitchell-Jenkins, who won the Creativity Award. She is making good on her training in pastry and baking and served tasty and exquisite cupcakes for dessert during the reception following the awards ceremony.  Former scholar Christopher Johnson won the Courage Award for finding a path for completing his education after he and his family became homeless.  Asha Haddox-Rossiter, a 2022 scholar, won two awards — the Academic Excellence Award for her straight A’s through high school, and the Community Service Award for 350 hours of volunteer service during her school years. 

We also received a new scholarship from the Kenneth V. Rogers and Cora L.Williams Foundation to be given to two first time scholars –  Amani Walker (Delaware State) and Adrionna Williams (Elizabeth City State University-NC).

The program closed when Audrey Hinton made her acknowledgements to the students, their families, teachers, and the ESTF volunteers. She then introduced Vyllorya Evans, who has chaired or co-chaired ESTF since 2009. Evans gave closing remarks that included her thanks to donors.  

In thanking FOS for its continuing partnership with ESTF, Evans said, “Our latest scholarship for graduate school scholars initiated by FOS and appropriately named after the late, great Coralie Farlee, is not only an example that we recognize our friend Coralie for her amazing life and dedication to encouraging education; it also insures that her spirit lives on in this flourishing Southwest community.” 

Evans also made an announcement for the 50th year celebration that will take place next year. Under her guidance, the Task Force continues to grow, adding more scholars, more dollars, and more members. 

Please watch this newspaper regularly for advertisements and articles about our 50th year celebration, as we unveil ways in which we will need your help. The first step is to locate as many of the now 261 scholars and former scholars and invite them to our celebration. We will need the “neighborhood historians” to help us in our search. Please visit our website https://www.swnascholarship.org for more information.

We are still accepting contributions. You can contribute in several ways:

By mailing a check to SWNA @ P.O. Box 70131, Washington, DC, 20024. Please put “ESTF contribution” in the left-hand corner of your check. /  Donate online at https://www.mightycause.com/story/Swna-Scholarship. You can also instruct your bank to send monthly contributions from your account to ESTF.

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