Last semester, 10 Black students were able to receive awards based on their creative efforts.
$10,000 was distributed to 10 students last semester through the “Unity in Community” scholarship program, meant to recognize the creative efforts of students of color. Kendra Gourgue, a senior with an individualized major in intersectionality and art studies, had designed the scholarship in 2021 in collaboration with the Black Student Union (BSU) and the sociology department.
In forming the scholarship, Gourgue sought to provide Black students with a way to express their talents outside of traditional assessments — accepting creative projects ranging from poetry to music albums.
“I definitely felt that I had the opportunity to help lower-income students of color and also just students who aren’t comfortable with the usual scholarship essay-writing format,” Gourgue said. “I feel like this allowed them the opportunity to show their work in a nonstructured way and in a way that wasn’t necessarily centered in what white academia has taught us shows that you’re smart.”
In order to secure funding for the scholarship, Gourgue partnered with the sociology department, receiving $5,000 from both the department and the BSU. She then organized a board of sociology professors, along with a graduate student, to assess the applicants, before awarding the scholarship on Black Solidarity Day.
Gourgue specifically noted the assistance she had received from Joshua Price, a professor of sociology, Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz, an associate professor and chair of the sociology department and Ana Maria Candela, assistant professor in the sociology department.
Students were allowed to submit any creative project of their choosing, and while there were prompts provided, the applicants were encouraged to branch out past them. Shanaiyah Brown, a sophomore majoring in social work, chose to write a creative essay.
“I actually enjoy writing, so it was fun,” Brown said. “I followed the prompt given but added creativity to it. The curation process was smooth for me once I understood what was being asked.”
Other submissions included music, artwork or poetry. Rasheema Wright, a graduate student studying public health, had found the scholarship through a BSU Instagram post. Wright decided to create a poem discussing her experiences navigating life and advocating for herself as a Black woman.
“I reflected on my experiences during the beginning of the [COVID-19] pandemic — when I was left to my thoughts and was consumed by the media that was flooded with injustices and the deaths of Black and Brown folks,” Wright wrote in an email. “The poem reflects on that inner dialogue but more importantly, the strength within that compels me to continue to fight despite being tired.”
BSU highlighted the winners of the scholarship in its Black Solidarity Day event in November. Wright, having found out she won the scholarship a few days prior to the event, said she was excited to be chosen among all the other Black creators on campus.
“I would definitely recommend the application process to other Black students who are interested,” Wright wrote. “I found this experience to be a great way to reflect on the ways in which my art and creativity to uplift and celebrate my community.”
Jabari Browne, a member of BSU and senior majoring in cinema, submitted a film piece he had worked on over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What I loved most about the scholarship was the option to upload a video rather than an essay,” Browne said. “Personally, I am a videographer so having the ability to use my cinematography was amazing.”
Browne said he was “astounded” to have won the scholarship, and said it was a large help to his financial situation.
Jabari Randolph, a second-year graduate student studying human rights, had submitted an extended play (EP) record, which told their story of transformation as a Black queer artist. Randolph was recognized with a plaque and the award money at the BSU Black Solidarity Day event.
“I like to think working on this project inspired me to blend my creativity, my identity, my scholarship and my need to inspire collective action together.” Randolph said. “I submitted an EP I made at the beginning of the pandemic that included some of my personal and political reflections at the time and emphasized how it influenced my current capstone project that blends my interests into a zine that highlights local voices.“
The BSU played a large role in attracting students to apply for the scholarship. Many said it allowed many to feel a sense of community in a school and town full of predominantly non-Black people. For Hawa Fofana, another scholarship winner who had submitted an essay, the BSU was a reprieve from the fear of being ostracized she felt on campus.
“As a Black student coming from a diverse city to a [predominantly white institution (PWI)], I was worried that I would feel isolated in my differences instead of embraced,” Fofana said. “However, as I slowly became more involved in the multicultural community here [at BU], I started to understand what it really meant to feel united in a community of like-minded individuals. We are really all each other has on this campus and I felt that unity through organizations like the [BSU]. “
Her writing piece focused on the barriers she had faced in her academic journey, and the activism she feels is necessary to help Black students get the recognition they deserve in academic settings.
“I wrote that protesting isn’t always taking to the streets to march, it can simply be doing everything I am doing today, and [all that] my fellow Black students are doing every day taking up space, and overcoming the barriers formed around us,” Fofana said. “Our success alone is a form of protest.”
Gourgue said she hopes to expand the scholarship initiative to include a significant number of more departments in the future, ideally reaching a point at which BSU funding is no longer needed. Until then, Gourgue noted the importance of providing Black students with a sense of confidence in their talents.
“Affirmation takes people so far, once you really show people that they are capable of things, they start to believe in themselves, and then do the same for others,” Gourgue said.