Photo: Fullfilment Fund Alumni and Stars Gala Speaker Niona White
Photo credit: Alex J. Berliner
Jovana Smith, both Black, female and from a low-income community, recalls wearing headphones to block out the sounds of her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood: guns, drug deals, catcalls, and prostitution activities. She recounted a scene in high school, where hearing that her Algebra teacher’s son was going to UC Riverside, she exclaimed that she wanted to go there too. Her teacher told her that she would, “never get in” and laughed in her face.
Rather than let the experience eradicate her self-esteem, she instead let it become her mission to prove her professor wrong; she would prove that she could go to college. By a chance meeting with a Fulfillment Fund mentor during her junior year of high school the chance of her reaching her goal accelerated.
Her Fulfillment Fund mentor alerted her to a full ride scholarship opportunity with Marymount California University. She would outcompete all other applicants to become a recipient of that scholarship, relieving both her and her family of the financial stresses of attending university and granting her a doorway out of South Central and the sounds she had blocked out years before.
African-Americans are both disproportionately affected by poverty and low high school graduation rates. Their educational deficiencies serve as a roadblock to them obtaining competitive salaries and have long-terms effects on their social income statuses and monetary attainment.
“African-Americans suffer from a poverty rate of 27.2 percent—the highest of any group—compared to 25.6 percent of Latinos, 11.7 percent for Asians and 9.7 percent for whites” (The Grio). Females in particular are disproportionately affected by poverty. This in combination with the fact that only 5 in 10 low-income students graduated high school in 2014 (The Fulfillment Fund) means that African-American are the most likely to be both low-income and have that negatively affect their educational attainment.
In the school year 2011–2012, some 3.1 million public high school students, or 81 percent, graduated on time with a regular diploma. Among all public high school students, Blacks had the lowest graduation rate of any measured racial group—68 percent (National Center for Education Statistics).
However, in the arena of black educational attainment, there is good news to accompany the bad. The percentage of Blacks ages16-24 who are not enrolled in school and have not earned a high school credential, fell from 13 to 7 percent from 1990-2013. This is largely believed to be the result of the No Child Left Behind Act and community driven social programs such as the Fulfillment Fund, a non-profit thats mission to increase educational attainment for individuals from low income backgrounds.
Over 10,000 Fulfillment Fund mentees have attended college. At the 2015 Stars Gala, put on by the fund, Niona White an African-American, from a low income background, female and a past mentee spoke at this years gala. She recently graduated with a degree in Business Administration and Economics and was offered and accepted a CPA position with Ernst and Young the third largest professional services firm in the world and one of the “Big Four,” audit firms. She is one of the 81 percent of Fulfillment Fund mentees to have attended and graduated from university. She’s now married and lives with her husband in Marina Del Rey.
The Fulfillment Fund’s 21st Annual Stars Gala raised $1.4 million in one night to support the Fulfillment Fund and their mission to expand educational opportunities to those disadvantaged by their social economic statuses.
The gala’s lead performer, Brenna Whitaker, took a moment during the gala to give a shout out and musical performance in support of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Celebrity and VIP guests in attendance included: producer Mark Gordon, actor Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter and The Patriot), director Roland Emmerich, musical artist Brenna Whitaker, Jes Meza (Hulu’s East Los High), Lorraine Toussaint (Orange is the New Black), James Pickens, Jr. (Grey’s Anatomy), Kristen Vangsness (Criminal Minds), Hollywood executives Jeffrey Katzenberg, Chris Meledandri, Rich Ross and Jeff Shell, director Jon Avnet, producer Erica Messer (Criminal Minds) and restaurateur and designer Barbara Lazaroff.