by Amanda Ong
Eight South Seattle high school Students of Color have been awarded $16,000 each for college costs from the Mount Baker Community Club’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship, helping South End students to fulfill their dreams of going to four-year universities. All recipients this year are the first generation in their family to attend college, with two students from Rainier Beach High School, two from Franklin High School, two from Cleveland High School, one from Garfield High School, and one from Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences. They have plans to attend a range of colleges both local and national, public and private.
The goal of the scholarship is to seek out students who show financial need and academic promise, who have overcome obstacles, and who contribute to their community. The scholarship prioritizes low-income Students of Color who may not be eligible for other scholarships, with a GPA range from 2.5 to 3.6.
The awardees are: Malachi Dixson, Gian Gaspar, Simya Gibson, Sefu Jeffries, Hawi Kadir, Samuel Kassa, Maria Romero, and Mumtaz Sheikhaden.
Simya Gibson just graduated from Franklin High School and is attending Jackson State University — a public historically Black university — in the fall. Gibson grew up in the Rainier Valley area with her mother and sister.
“If it wasn’t for the MLK scholarship, I probably wouldn’t be able to be on the right track to go to college, or I’d be knee-deep with loans, so I really do appreciate that,” Gibson said in an interview with the Emerald. “And I love it’s like a South Seattle scholarship, because I know there’s not many scholarships that go to South Seattle. They usually go to North Seattle, or just in general to Washington. So it was nice knowing that I actually had an opportunity or a chance to receive this scholarship.”
The MLK Scholarship Fund was started in 1985 by a small group of neighbors in Seattle’s Mount Baker community and is a sponsored activity of the Mount Baker Community Club in an effort to honor the work and dreams of Dr. King. Now in its 37th year, the scholarship is an impressive volunteer- and donor-run project of the Mount Baker Community Club.
Gibson received two other scholarships and is an impressive example of a scholarship recipient, especially given that most of her time in high school has been during the years of the pandemic. She has been dancing since she was 3 years old, practicing ballet, cheerleading, modern, jazz, hip-hop, and majorette, the latter two of which she hopes to continue at Jackson State. She has also been a part of Franklin’s theater program, the Black Student Union, and a student finance workshop. Gibson was also a part of the Empowering Youth and Families program and took classes through Running Start.
Now, she plans to study psychology. “I always wanted to do psychology, I just liked hearing people’s lives, and growing up after the pandemic, everybody’s mental health is really important,” Gibson said. “I want to combine psychology with dancing. And I didn’t think I could do that until a Dance for Parkinson’s workshop. And in that, [instructors were] moving and dancing with people with Parkinson’s disease. … Moving with Parkinson’s disease actually helps you, and that was really interesting to me.”
As scholarship awardees like Gibson look forward to their college careers, they can also be assured that they will have the scholarship’s full support in the challenges they might face, especially as first-generation, low-income students entering university.
Since 2020, the scholarship has also partnered with College Success Foundation to provide non-financial support, to ensure that students received coaching, training, and advice to help them advance from pre-enrollment to graduation and after. The partnership with College Success has allowed it to track students’ retention and completion rates, as well as offering scholars the kind of help they need as they complete high school and move through their college years. This kind of support gives a student like Gibson her best chance to thrive in school and after.
“Honestly, I’m just excited. For one, I’m excited to go out of state for school, because I’m going to Mississippi,” Gibson said. “I’ve never even been there. I’m glad that I get to go to an HBCU and have this experience. Because a lot of my friends weren’t able to do that, because of their finances. … I know that they have a really good psychology program, so I’m just interested and excited to make friends that are going towards the same thing as me.”
Despite having gone through high school in the pandemic, Gibson thoroughly enjoyed her experience, especially being able to take classes through Running Start that were not offered in her high school, like psychology and American Sign Language. She also was grateful to seek opportunities through Empowering Youth and Families, through which she met the mentor who told her about the MLK Scholarship.
“Without [Empowering Youth and Families], I honestly probably wouldn’t know anything about college, because my mom went to college and she didn’t finish,” Gibson said. “And so it was just important to me that I could get there and finish for her. … I really am proud of myself. And I’m really thankful that I got the opportunity to graduate and go this far.”
Gibson is most grateful for her family, who she says have been endlessly supportive of her aspirations throughout her time in high school. But the MLK scholarship has made an incredible impact on her life and seven other students’ lives, as it has done for the last 37 years.
“I do want to say thank you Mount Baker Community Club for trusting and investing in me,” Gibson said. “I really, really, really do appreciate it, because I wouldn’t be here without this funding.”
Donate to the MLK Scholarship Fund through its website, or volunteer for its selection committee by contacting MLKScholarships@MountBaker.org. Applications for 2023 will open to high school seniors in December, and will be available on College Success Foundation’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship webpage.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: Five of the eight scholarship awardees. From left to right: Sefu Jeffries, Samuel Kassa, Simya Gibson, Hawi Kadir, and Mumtaz Sheikhaden. (Photo: Kelly Fox Violette)
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