This year, USF welcomes 13 accomplished student leaders from across the country (and Mexico) to participate in the first year of the Black Scholars Program.
The Black Scholars Program, which is part of the overall Black Achievement Success and Engagement (BASE) initiative, educates selected scholars in a way that challenges them to become leaders in their communities through specialized classes, community involvement and mentorship.
Dr. Candice Harrison, a history professor at USF who advocated for the creation of BASE for over five years, works as its faculty director. She described her goals when constructing the extensive application for the Black Scholars Program. “We had a list of requirements, standards [and] expectations, for the scholars. They had to have at least a 3.5 GPA [and] had to have demonstrated leadership potential,” Harrison said. “We [also] wanted students in particular who were willing, no matter what career path, to serve marginalized folks for the rest of their lives.”
According to Harrison, BASE strives to recruit more black students to USF, increase the percentage of black graduates and engage black students in school and community programs to increase their numbers in positions of leadership. Harrison’s personal hope for the program is “that we empower all of our black students with the tools and the resources to do the bigger, more transformative work, not only of this institution, but of the world.”
Two weeks into the first year of the program, Harrison believes she has found exactly what she hoped. “It’s not about seeing these students as folks who need to be saved in any way, these are folks that I fundamentally believe can save us,” she said. “The scholars were chosen because we believe in their leadership capacity, and we believe they can take us to new levels as a university and as a nation.”
Dumm organized the Portland March For Our Lives, wrote a slam poetry piece for the event and performed it in front of 20,000 people. “[It] was an amazing experience and opportunity… to see how I was able to bring the whole community together and be a part of it at the same time,” Dumm said.
Vargas is a first-generation college student and wants to use his education to improve injustices in inner-city police departments. “Actually being on campus and flying out halfway across the country to get an education was a really proud achievement of mine. [My] goal is to take whatever I learn here and take it back home to Houston,” Vargas said.
Sorapuru was a member of his high school’s Student Life Council. He also worked with the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights, which advocated for education for all kids with emphasis on those who were previously incarcerated in the juvenile justice system. “I’m very proud of being a leader at my high school because I’m a big advocate for education,” Sorapuru said.
Gregory worked closely with the Black Student Union Summit of Bay View, San Francisco as a fundraiser, organizer and master of ceremonies. He helped form the rituals, traditions and structures of the program. “I brought a new sense of community to all the African American students in San Francisco, being as we only make up a very low percentage [of the student population across the city],” Gregory said.
During high school, Sivers worked for Youth Ending Slavery, a youth-led nonprofit combating human trafficking in Portland. The organization works to bring awareness to the issue of human trafficking by hosting community events. “I think being on the board taught me a lot. I consider it my biggest achievement, just because of how it allowed me to reach so many people and bring awareness to this issue that really isn’t talked about,” Sivers said.
Lelaind is passionate about improving educational opportunities for black communities.
“[I want to] be able to increase the opportunities people have but also promote higher education in places like low-income countries where there’s no education at all… to get them the education they need to be equal,” Lelaind said.
Mwan’Zuzi studies typhoid fever in East African countries. “The team I am so grateful to be a part of works with taking initiative on educating and providing the necessary resources to supply people with safe drinking water,” Mwan’Zuzi said. “At USF and in the BASE program, I hope to gain more knowledge on how to effectively help underprivileged people on a larger scale specifically in the health field.”
Smith worked at the Emergency Room at Stanford ValleyCare as a medical assistant during her senior year of high school. “I felt a sense of happiness walking into the ER because I knew that I was there for a purpose,” Smith said. “I was there to help people and save those who needed it. I loved being able to connect with all different types of people and I look forward to doing that again throughout my studies, [as] I hope to become a Registered Nurse with hopes of receiving my master’s to become a ER Nurse Practitioner.”
Lamar started her own business named Securing Degrees, where she provides help to high school students with the resources to secure scholarships for college. “[I] started my business because as I was applying to colleges and scholarships, I saw a need for support in those processes,” Lamar said. “Many students are handed a list of scholarships, but they don’t know what to do with them or how to submit a ‘winning application,’ so that’s where I come in.”
Cooper raised over $1,500 for sub-Saharan Africans to receive school supplies, such as desks through GoFundMe, and school funding. “I was encouraged to raise the money because I believe everyone deserves fair access to education and a desk is an often-overlooked piece of equipment when it comes to education,” Cooper said.
In high school, Dickson created a club called Discussions on People’s Equality (DOPE) that created a safe space for students to discuss issues like race, religion, sexual orientation and other controversial topics. “Through becoming a Black Scholar, I have had recognition to ensure that the equality I was striving towards had impacted people,” Dickson said. “Through my time at USF, I hope to gain the skills, and degree, to turn my dreams of social justice into reality.”
Sahndra founded an association called Black and Brown Empowerment at her high school, which aimed to create a community for students of color. “It took… about two years to really get it off the ground and have it firmly established and gain a following at our school,” Magee said. “Actually doing it and offering really cool events for our members, like college tours and personal statement workshops, was amazing.”
Alston wants to start multiple businesses in the future. “The process of raising up a business from nothing [is what] draws me to entrepreneurship,” Alston said. “I love the struggle of putting my all into a project, remaining persistent through challenges and succeeding as a result of my hard work and resilience.”