Five of Buffalo’s graduating high school seniors have been awarded Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarships to help pay for college starting this fall. The scholarship is named in honor of the civil rights advocate and first African American Major League Baseball player.
Twin sisters Olivia and Lauryn Whiteside (graduates of Nichols School and PS #156 Frederick Law Olmsted), Alexis Marshall and Mary Tess Wright (City Honors School), and Jai Robinson (Nichols) are among 54 students from across the country who were selected to be part of the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s Class of 2023.
The scholarship program provides minority students with up to $30,000 over the course of a four-year degree, mentoring services, leadership development, and internship and job placement help. There is also a community service requirement for recipients, and the scholars will travel together to Tanzania next summer to finish building a school begun by a past class.
“I just think it’s the best thing in the world for these students,” said Dr. William Kresse, principal of City Honors School. “It’s providing not only scholarship funds. It’s providing leadership training. It’s providing an experience to go to Africa and make an impact, and then there’s also opportunities for them to receive assistance for post-graduate education.”
And of his recent graduates Marshall and Wright, Kresse said, “These young women are incredible, and they represent the best of all of our students here at the school.”
From African dance and drumming to Science Olympiad, and from conducting biomedical research to baking pies for the homeless, the Jackie Robinson scholars from Buffalo kept busy during their high school careers.
“Oh my goodness, what wasn’t I involved in?” Olivia Whiteside told WBFO. “Well, let’s start with the big ones. I played volleyball all four years. I was co-captain my fourth year.”
Whiteside was also co-captain of Nichols’ Science Olympiad team, participated in a political debate club and was part of the school’s writing center, among other activities.
At City Honors School, both Marshall and Wright were members of the African drumming and dance troupe; Wright was dance captain—responsible for developing and teaching the group’s choreography. She also played violin and found music to be a helpful stress reliever.
“If I had a big test or something coming up or I had a project to do, I could kind of ease my mind by going to orchestra practice in the morning,” Wright said. “Or even during my lunch, I would just go in a practice room and play.”
Starting in her freshman year, Marshall was part of City Honors’ Science Research Program, which pairs students with a mentor at one of three local medical institutes and trains them in laboratory research.
“Once a week, instead of going to school, I’d go to do research at Hauptman-Woodward Medical Institute,” said Marshall, who plans to study neuroscience and public health at Columbia University. “I conducted proteomics and bioinformatics research with Dr. William Duax.”
The three young women WBFO spoke to all said the Jackie Robinson scholarship will significantly help ease the financial burden of attending a four-year college—especially prestigious private universities like Columbia and New York University, where Whiteside will study media culture and communication.
“My mom sat me down and she looks at me and she goes, ‘This is what you need to do to make that happen,’” Whiteside said of her dream of attending NYU. “So it means the world for me to be able to go to the school I want to go to and to be able to afford it.”
Wright said the scholarship is “a blessing,” and she said she appreciates that the program offers much more than just funding, such as a strong network of diverse peers and mentors.
“There were other African American students in my schools, but it was only a handful of us or it seemed like it was only a handful of us,” Wright said of her lifelong education at predominantly white institutions. “I felt like an outsider a lot. So I want to go somewhere where there’s other people that look like me, with similar dreams and aspirations.”
Wright is heading to Morgan State University, one of the country’s historically black colleges and universities (HBCU), to study mathematics. She also said she’s interested in becoming a teacher in order to address the need for more educators of color.
Marshall also said the exposure to diversity the Jackie Robinson Foundation Scholarship offers is important to her—and not just in terms of race. She mentioned the scholars’ different educational backgrounds, from private schools to homeschooling, and their varied aspirations as other distinguishing features of the class.
“We’ve already been exposed to the greatness of other African American and minority teenagers all across the country,” Marshall said. “It means the world to me.”
Rounding out the college plans for Buffalo’s Class of 2023 Jackie Robinson scholars, Lauryn Whiteside, the Olmsted graduate, will study engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, and Jai Robinson of Nichols School was accepted to one of the most selective dance programs in the country: The University of Southern California’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.