Eighteen Madison-area students were honored with scholarships at the Women In Focus Virtual Scholarship Reception held on Sunday, April 18.
“It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome you to the 2nd Virtual Women In Focus Virtual Scholarship Reception,” said Verena Morgan, president of Women In Focus, via Zoom. “The disappointment of not being able to award this scholarship in person does not diminish the impact that these awards will have on our youth as they move on to college and their future.
“Our students have overcome so much over the past year and this year’s submissions have left me with hope and confidence that our community has a bright future with these young folks taking the lead,” she added.
Each year, Women In Focus, Inc. reviews submissions and awards scholarships to deserving college-bound students of color who have been selected by the WIF Scholarship Review Committee. The scholarships are presented at a big ceremony every spring, usually in person.
“One of my favorite parts about being in Women in Focus is that I really love the scholarship recipients – to meet them, to hear their inspirational stories, and to watch them doing great things,” Women in Focus Social Media Chair Portia Adney tells Madison365.
On Sunday, WIF Scholarships were presented virtually to Areeya Hear, Nongnah Her, Itzayana Saucedo Vivar, and Quynh-Anh Le of East High; Copper Daniel of Memorial High, Calise Howard, Rayanna Alexander and Tziah McNair of La Follette High; and Meghna Krishna of Verona High.
Olivia Krause and Jilian Patton, both of Sun Prairie High School, were honored with WIF Scholarships for students entering a health field.
Chastity Collins of Sun Prairie High School got the WIF Scholarship in honor of Gloria Jones-Bey; Jayda Woods of La Follette High School received the WIF Scholarship in memory of Jasmine Cox; Julian James of Madison East High received the WIF Scholarship in honor of Rose Ann Brown. Kersey-Angela Abongwa of Verona High School got the Julius Morgan Scholarship; Aliyah Brown of La Follette High School received the WIF Scholarship in honor of Virginia Henderson; and Ebba Harrison of Waunakee High School got the WIF Scholarship in honor of Jan and Al Studesville.
Isaiah Mielke of Sun Prairie High School got the WIF Inspiring Founders Scholarship, a new four-year award.
Money for these scholarships was raised on Saturday, Jan. 16, at the Women in Focus 35th Anniversary Virtual MLK Dream Scholarship Ball, which was a virtual event for the first time ever. Usually, it’s a very dressed-up gala event downtown at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center with a dual purpose of honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and raising scholarship money for worthy students.
“It was our first virtual event and everybody was really nervous. But it went so well. It was incredible,” Adney says.
Adney was the host of the WIF “I Have a Dream” Ball along with Taj Mahal, NBC anchor.
“The silent auction alone raised approximately $60,000. Between sponsorships of the event and people who attended virtually and continued to donate, I believe we raised another $60,000. It was our biggest fundraiser ever,” Adney says.
That’s good news because the money raised at the event goes toward the WIF scholarships.
The 2021 Women In Focus Inc. Scholarship awardees on Sunday were presented with 17 scholarships worth $2,500 each. The final scholarship — the new Inspiring Founders Scholarship — is a four-year award of $2,500 each year.
Nichelle Nichols, the executive director of the office of equity and engagement for MMSD, was the keynote speaker at the Women In Focus Virtual Scholarship Reception. Nichols acknowledged the students’ persistence and resilience and the ability to retain their academic focus through their junior and senior years as they have faced the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is my hope that you continue to dream and that you continue to note that you are carrying on the legacy of many of our ancestors,” Nichols, who earned a WIF scholarship back in 1987, told the students. “Your pursuit of going on to college and maintaining academic excellence is something that we need. This is the time that we need you to keep on dreaming.”
Nichols encouraged the young people to explore themselves in college and to expose themselves to many things that they didn’t learn in high school and to become involved in different things there. It will “open a world for you,” she said.
“As you are excited about this next chapter in your life, I want you to hang onto the fact that persisting through is more important,” Nichols added. “I want you to keep coming back to this idea that ‘I am resilient; I must persist. It is my duty to persist.'”
Women in Focus, Inc. is a local organization composed of passionate women who are single-minded in their promotion of educational excellence and healthy development of children of color. Established in 1983, the Founding WIF Members created an active force in the Madison community to inspire young students of color to emulate successful role models of color.
“It is great to see everyone joining us to recognize these outstanding scholars,” said Treater Prestine, the Women in Focus Scholarship Chair for 2021. “In the last 35 years, Women In Focus has given out over 300 scholarships in excess of $600,000 to support, encourage, and recognize outstanding students of color who contribute to the greater Madison community in a positive way every day. These students have demonstrated that they are committed to their individual achievements, their family, and community.”