‘What Black History Month Means to Me’

2021 Scholarship Essay Contest Winners

Meet our three $1,000 educational scholarship winners and read their inspiring stories about what Black History Month means to them.
The decision wasn’t easy, and we want to sincerely thank everyone who participated and shared their personal essays.

Marsha A. - Delaware

Black History means so much to me than ever before. Mental health in the Black community has always been my field of interest and I have dedicated my life to serving the Black community. Black history tells a story, and allows Black people’s voices to amplify. My field and interest in African American and Black Psychology has allowed me to serve and conceptualize Blacks from a strengths based approach rather than looking at Blacks as having deficits. Our Black history starts before slavery and does not end here. Our Black history traces as far back as being pharaohs, clothed in Gold and jewels, being leaders and conquerors, healer and high achievers, much of those qualities still encompassed in our community.

To me, Black history is not only honoring the past, but also honoring the present Black leaders that are making a profound impact. I admire Black women such as Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Sojourner Truth, and Madam C.J. Walker. I appreciate the strength, tenacity, activism, intelligence and empowerment that this women encompass. I also admire my Black mother-born and raised in Ghana, West African and immigrated to the United States at the age of twenty. As a Black immigrant she had low cultural literacy, language anxiety and experienced discrimination. Though it wasn’t always easy, she persisted. For most of my life, my mother struggled to take care of my three siblings and me as a single mother. There was a period where she was unemployed, and as such, my siblings and I found ourselves homeless—a predicament we never could have imagined. We struggled financially for food and would often visit the food bank or local churches serving dinner. Compounding these challenges was my mother’s battle with ovarian cancer, and Sickle Cell Disease.

Through these hardships, I have watched my mother prevail through some of the most challenging circumstances in life and maintain a warm and optimistic spirit. My mother is a Woman of God, a fighter and woman of virtue and principles —many of which were instilled in me and many of which are embedded in the Black community and were passed down from our strong Black ancestors. Black History always reminds me to never allow setbacks to keep me down, but rather to use hard situations to grow and acquire new wisdom and strength.

If given this scholarship, I would use this towards my educational pursuits. As a first generation Ghanaian-American woman, experiencing the effects of the underrepresentation of Black and African women in the field of psychology is one of my driving forces to obtain a Doctorate in Psychology. In the community, there is a significant lack of mental health awareness but paradoxically a tremendous amount of mental health concern. From a young age, I experienced this gap as members of my community adopted the perspective of suffering in silence or attributing mental illness to spiritual or superstitious explanations. At the age of 12, a trip back home to Ghana was a pivotal moment in my life as I saw firsthand how the lack of mental health awareness impacted people’s lives. I witnessed people with mental illness left outside begging for food, taunted, harassed and beaten on multiple occasions. Emboldened, I made the profound commitment to serve disadvantaged communities through advocacy, education and dissemination of psychological services. By obtaining my Doctorate in Psychology at George Washington University I aim to investigate ways to bridge the mental health disparity gap in the Black Community through competent clinical practice, research and scholarship and healing. I intend to use advance education and training to deliver competent and culturally appropriate services to my community.

Piper C. - Delaware

To me, Black History Month means a time for Black people to be recognized for our achievements and contributions to the world. It would be wrong to believe that Black history is separate from American history, in my opinion, they are inextricably linked. Black history is American history, as Black people have played an invaluable role in shaping the modern day.

My undergraduate experience at Spelman College was unique and eye opening in this regard. After graduating from Spelman College, I plan to attend law school and study international law. I originally chose to attend Spelman College because I thought at a college for Black women, the students there would all think like I do. But while attending, I realized that an institution dedicated to the education of Black women can still harbor myriad perspectives among its relatively homogenous student body, and that because of this, there is always something new to learn. I feel the same way about Black history.

In my opinion, Black history is endless, and because Black history has experienced many eras, there’s always something new to learn. As the daughter of an immigrant, Black history can symbolize change, as the descendent of slaves, Black history can symbolize resilience, and as a Black woman, Black history can symbolize ingenuity. One month is not nearly enough to recognize all of the qualities that Black people and our history possess, but I have always believed that Black History Month is a good place to start. Due to my upbringing and educational experiences, I think that I will be able to offer an empowered perspective that is underrepresented in the legal community. I look forward to the opportunity to learn from others and discuss perspectives that seem foreign to me, because I know that my presence may offer the same opportunity to others. Openness to dissimilar ideas is essential in order to understand and practice law, so it is important to me that I continue to uplift Black voices and Black history in the community that I plan to serve in the future.

As a first-generation American and an early graduate of Spelman College, this scholarship could do a lot for me as I prepare for my legal education post-undergrad. My journey to becoming a Spelman alumna has been very daunting, and the COVID-19 pandemic cut a lot of resources that would have otherwise helped me during this process. I have been accepted into amazing schools such as Cornell Law School, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, and University of Michigan School of Law, but my greatest fear is that upon acceptance into a promising institution, I will be ill equipped to start my post-graduate education there. This scholarship could help me buy legal textbooks, items to furnish an apartment, or pay off my initial seat deposit once I commit to a law school. Help funding any of these things would ease this fear quite a bit.

Amber D. - Florida

As a little girl, Black History month meant learning about the history of African people in America, their paths to freedom and their contributions to society. My parents ensured that I walked through Frederick Douglass’s home, rode the path of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad in the DMV area and forced me to research the different female entrepreneurs like Madam CJ Walker, Clara Brown and Maggie Lena Walker. Since I was the only girl in my family growing up, the majority of my childhood was spent discovering African American female entrepreneurs, their contributions to progress, their sacrifices and the challenges that they faced as African Americans women in business. I have always dreamed of one day owning my own business. I have several entrepreneurs in my family, but they’re all men.

My dream of owning my business was shaped by women heroes in African American History. Harriett Tubman’s courage to travel “North” is something that I have always admired and have been in awe of. She believed in freedom so much that she went back to the “South” several times to help free others. Her courage and resolve is very similar to Clara Brown. Clara used her business savvy to start a business using the skills that she was forced to learn during her enslavement. She started a successful laundry business during the late 1850’s after she purchased her freedom during the Gold Rush. Another pioneer, Maggie Lena Walker believed so much in African American wealth that she chartered the first African American bank in 1903, called the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. I also reflect on Madame CJ Walker; who became the first African American female millionaire through starting her homemade hair care products company with just one dollar and 5 cents in her savings account.

History reminds us of what African American women like me are capable of. Women who may have every obstacle in their way but choose to see the ideas in their heads as their way to success. These women had every reason to fail or not use their ideas, but they chose instead to persevere and for that I am truly thankful. They remind me of the possibilities of African American women and what we can accomplish when we truly believe in ourselves.

Women throughout African American history motivate me daily to believe in myself and my own hopes of one day owning a successful small business. On days when my goals seem too lofty or unattainable, I reflect back on my ancestors and women throughout African American History and their stories continue to comfort me. I am currently a graduating senior attending Florida International University where I study Business Analytics. I am studying to become a certified actuary while also launching my own jewelry line. I currently sell handmade jewelry.

The proceeds from this scholarship would help me purchase all of the professional equipment that I need to increase the size and quality of my jewelry business. At the present time, I currently produce all of my jewelry by hand. This equipment will allow me to produce more pieces and to produce the pieces faster. Although my career goals include acceptance into an Actuarial Leadership Development Program with a company at the end of my studies, I would like to continue to grow my business. The actuary program will support me learning the intricate details of business and all of the associated risks of running a successful business. My plans are to use what I learn to become a successful entrepreneur with the hopes that kids will one day hear my story.

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