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Money for canceled spring college tour used for scholarships

Every spring since 1993, about 40 high school students fom the region, mostly African Americans, have taken a weeklong bus tour of several historically Black colleges in the mid-Atlantic and southern states.

Except this year.

The New London County Historically Black Colleges Alumni Association had to cancel its signature event in April because of the coronavirus. The trips are meant to expose local college-bound students to the lesser-known Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), said Vouise Fonville, president of the local alumni association.

So with the approval from its sponsors, the group used some of the money for the trip to award $1,000 scholarships to eight students, regardless of whether they planned to attend an HBCU.

The recipients, all girls — Fonville said no boys applied — submitted winning essays, showed academic excellence and proof of acceptance to a college and excelled during interviews.

“The students we gave the scholarships to wrote beautiful essays,” Fonville said. “And they had to send the acceptance letter from the universities. We sent the checks right to the schools.”

All eight students went on the 2019 HBCU tour. The coronavirus has changed some of their plans. Three students said they will start their college education locally and plan to transfer to HBCUs after a year, “depending on the coronavirus.”

Several of the students have been active in recent protests over the past several weeks, while others steered away to avoid possible COVID-19 exposure.

“It’s one of the reasons why I want to go into legal studies,” scholarship recipient Aaliyah Staten of Groton said of the recent activism. “I don’t think it will be fully fixed still. I think we’ll still have problems. We’re just furthering the process.”

“The marches are very powerful,” said Tajzay Green of New London. “We as the Black community want to put our words out. We just want to be treated equally. A lot of people think Black Lives Matter is just for Black people. It’s for everybody.”

Brianna McPherson, 18, of New London graduated from New London High School and had planned to attend Clark Atlanta University. She switched to the University of Connecticut Avery Point campus because of the coronavirus and plans to transfer to Clark to study criminal law and become a lawyer.

“It’s a really good school and has a really good program for what I want to study,” she said of Clark.

Green, 17, who also graduated from New London High School, said she was excited to apply to Winston-Salem State University, but her paperwork got lost for a while. By the time she was accepted, she had committed to Eastern Connecticut State University. She plans to transfer to pursue a degree in biology and eventually become a plastic surgeon.

“The atmosphere at Winston-Salem, I love everything they stand for, and I love the alumni,” Green said. “I felt I was at home there. The people were very loving. I plan to transfer after a year or two depending on the coronavirus.”

New London High graduate Natasia Chandler, 18, wanted to go to an HBCU “so badly.” She was excited to be accepted to Winston-Salem State to study early childhood development. But she will start at UConn Avery Point and hopes to transfer to Winston-Salem in a year.

Zya Spruell, 18, of Willimantic, graduated from E.O. Smith High School in Mansfield. She will attend Morgan State University in Baltimore. She fell in love with the school during the 2019 bus tour. She plans to major in biology with a minor in African-American studies and hopes to become a neo-natal and pediatric physician.

Angie Correa, 18, of New London, a graduate of the Science & Technology Magnet High School, will attend ECSU for undergraduate school for health and sciences, and hopes to attend an HBCU for graduate school to become a physician’s assistant.

Correa said she and her friends were applying for as many scholarships as possible. She said she was excited because the $1,000 HBCA scholarship filled the gap for her first semester.

“That takes a weight off my shoulders,” she said.

Desiree Johnson, 18, a New London High graduate, will study sports psychology at Barry University in Miami, Fla. Although it's not an HBCU, Johnson said she was impressed by the high minority student enrollment. Johnson said she applied for many scholarships and this was the only one she received.

“I was excited,” she said. “I worked so hard, and I was able to get something.”

Staten, 18, a graduate of the Science & Technology Magnet High School, will attend Roger Williams University in Rhode Island to major in legal studies to pursue her childhood dream to become a lawyer. Staten said she loved the HBCU tour, but this was not a time to move far from home.

Bryanna Poulard, 18, who moved from New London to Norwalk for her senior year after attending the Science & Technology magnet school, also wanted to stay close to home. She will attend Hofstra University on Long Island. Poulard said the scholarship meant so much to her family. Her mother is unemployed due to the coronavirus, and her family is taking care of her grandmother, who is recovering from a car accident.

“I’m very grateful they’re actually giving me money,” Poulard said. “My mom has done a lot for me over the years, and she has worked hard. And we really do need the money.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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