Not long after Alicia Green connected with her roots, she disconnected from her hairstyle.
“I decided to cut off all my relaxed or permanently straightened hair and grow my natural-Afro textured hair,” the senior at De Anza High School said.
Far from a new fad, Green said the dramatic change was linked to her studies of the African Diaspora, which offered her “a reflection and representation of my true self.” It was a bold statement opposing the pressures young black women face in the U.S. to adhere to European standards.
“It is not my personal responsibility to make others comfortable with my blackness,” Green decided.
The impressive teenager delivered these and other powerful remarks on Wednesday at the 16th Annual Chevron Richmond Black History Awareness Celebration, where she was one of four seniors to receive college scholarships from Chevron.
The scholarships were awarded in honor of Dr. William F. King, a distinguished Chevron employee of 27-plus years who retired in 2003 and was a mentor, community activist and educator.
Green, a top student, says her dedication to education, including an examination of her Jamaican and Nigerian roots, helped make her eligible to apply to top universities. Most importantly, she says, the journey has given her the ability to love herself.
“I believe that I have an increased amount of pride and confidence attributable to my cultures,” Green said. “When I think about the fact that many of my ancestors had to fight for the right to have an education, I have to make sure that their efforts and struggles were not in vain.”
The three other winners of the Chevron Black History scholarships are equally impressive.
Leaje Morris, a senior at Making Waves Academy, is the Chairperson of the City of Richmond Youth Commission, a group of Richmond students who are working to end hunger and homelessness in Richmond. She is also captain of the varsity volleyball team, president of youth development at the Independent Community Church and founder and president of the Black Student Union at her school, among other activities.
In college, Morris plans to continue her studies in African American Diaspora, with a minor in Political Science. After earning an undergraduate degree she hopes to attend law school at Harvard. The Chevron scholarship, Morris said, forwards her goal of “one day being able to help other students achieve success just as you all have helped me.”
Ergin Calderon of Richmond High plays on the varsity soccer team, guides and mentors freshmen, is a member of robotics and electronic bike team and also hands out food for the homeless and poor at St. Marks Catholic Church.
Robert Ford of Middle College High School is president of a leadership group at school, leads team bonding and drills for the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps., is active in youth government and volunteers at Sojourner Food Bank.
As for Green, she has a 4.1 GPA while balancing her duties as a youth mentor, tutor, and group leader at Genders Unite, among other activities.
Monica Sudduth, regional director of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), spoke at Wednesday’s celebration about the importance of helping minority students obtain quality, affordable higher education.
Sudduth said John D. Rockefeller helped raise initial funds for UNCF’s programs to help students at historically black colleges, which she says graduate 20-percent of black students, including more graduates of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects than other schools combined. She expressed the importance of working with companies like Chevron to graduate blacks in STEM fields so that they may be eligible for jobs of the future.
“Gaps in access to education are a confusing problem today,” Sudduth said. “It makes the work of UNCF much tougher and support from Chevron that much more important.”