Cheers, whoops and applause filled the air, but it wasn’t at a concert or a game. Instead, more than 400 Los Angeles-area high school students were responding to the chance to receive scholarships for college.
The educational event, held Nov. 16 at the Hyatt Regency LAX Hotel, was part of the Empower Me Tour (EMT) sponsored by the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The free college-readiness program allowed students to obtain information and admission to the nation’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Instant scholarships were another EMT bonus for five graduating seniors, who surprised to collect the $2,500 awards. The recipients were Christian Dixon, Mohamad Lorenzano and Jada Salazar of Susan Miller Dorsey High School; Samad Acklin of Early College High School and Kiara Phillips of USC Media Arts High School.
Salazar, who grew up in the foster care system and hopes to attend Spelman College in Atlanta, said, “Applying for colleges and exploring opportunities help me to know that I can strive.”
Exposing students to future possibilities is one of the goals on the EMT program, according to Paulette Jackson, UNCF vice president of development.
“Students will walk away from here today understanding what it takes to get into college, get financial aid and they’ll be a little more empowered within themselves. They will have a chance to attend workshops that deal with self-esteem and help them to understand who they are personally and feel that confidence as they get ready to go off to college,” said Jackson.
Participating in the EMT certainly boosted the confidence of Inglewood High School senior Donaja Heard, who plans to major in criminology and become a lawyer.
“Their (HBCU representatives) energy is really good here and helped me not to be scared. I’m usually a shy person, but they understand what I’m going through and they’ve experienced the things that I’ve experienced,” said Heard. “Also, I liked being around my peers who want to be successful just like myself.”
Reggie Trimble, a senior at Compton Early College High School, enjoyed the welcoming environment as well. “Everyone was really nice and real approachable. You could talk to each college [representative] and learn what you can get from each college without feeling any pressure. I’m thinking about attending a HBCU and majoring in business or finance.”
In addition, the event included three interactive sessions to further aid students. “For the Culture: HBCU Experience” showcased the history and experiences at HBCUs. “My Black is Beautiful: Girl Talk” dissected barriers of beauty and shared strategies for educational and professional success. “Tied to Greatness: Guy Talk” highlighted how successful, minority men overcame struggles and obstacles during their educational pursuits.
Jackson added that EMT also features a second track, which starts in the spring, focused on career-readiness for college students. UNCF uses that platform to introduce undergraduates to representatives from graduate schools and potential employers.
“The students are able to apply for internships, screen for an opportunity for full-time employment, we review their resumes, explain how to dress for success and networking for success and how to get a good work product,” Jackson noted. “It’s an opportunity for students to get those skills that they might need to help them go into the workplace.”
Los Angeles is the fifth city on the Empower Tour, which also includes stops in Fort Worth, TX; Cincinnati, OH; Chicago, IL; Milwaukee, WI and Atlanta, GA. UNCF presented EMT in partnership with L.A.-area public school districts, parents, national sponsors Wells Fargo, Target, P&G and FedEx.
UNCF is the largest scholarship provider to students of color, awarding $100 million annually to more than 10,000 students across the country. To learn more, visit empowermetour.org or follow @UNCF #EmpowerMeTour.