Shreejal Luitel isn’t just hoping for greater minority representation in the tech industry. The senior at Middle College High is already moving the needle on the issue. He’s the co-founder and director of Richmond Codes, which has provided computer science education to over 350 students at seven local schools.
His classmate, Hawi Abraham, also isn’t one to wait for positive change. After noticing what she called woefully inadequate data derived from West Contra Costa Unified (WCCUSD) student surveys, she led a campaign to overhaul the survey, which ended up adopted by the WCCUSD as an official point of reference in understanding school climate.
Luitel and Abraham are among four impressive winners of the annual Dr. William King Scholarship Award, funded by the Chevron Black Employee Network in honor of the retired longtime chemist and community mentor at Chevron Richmond.
On Wednesday at the Richmond Refinery, this year’s student scholarship winners delivered inspiring speeches – and in many cases, real-world solutions – before a packed crowd of community leaders, elected officials and Chevron employees at the 21st Annual Chevron Richmond Black History Awareness Celebration, held annually during Black History Month. Dr. Damon A. Bell, the newly appointed interim president at Contra Costa College, served as the keynote speaker.
Abraham won first place in this year’s scholarship awards, followed by Luitel in second place, Miguel Anderson of Summit Public School in third place, and Ryan Saechao of Richmond High in fourth. Since 2004, more than 50 deserving students have received the scholarship.
While earning a 4.43 GPA is impressive on its own, Abraham’s leadership on overhauling the WCCUSD student survey plays nicely into her career goals, which aim to minimize bias in technology-driven data. The highly active teen, who also tutors Contra Costa College students in pre-Algebra and Calculus, participated in a Stanford University research project last year using artificial intelligence to reduce preventable patient conditions in hospitals.
“I’m extremely passionate about improving the accountability of the artificial intelligence industry and fairly representing our multi-faceted world in the forefront of machine research,” said Abraham, who draws inspiration from W.E.B. Du Bois.
Luitel, on the other hand, draws inspiration from Lewis Howard Latimer, who drafted patents for the lightbulb, along with Oprah Winfrey and the late Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson, in his quest to prep underserved communities for tech industry jobs. In his speech, Luitel talked about seeing his friend Alberto devolving into drugs and ending up arrested as he was growing up.
“If provided the proper network and the right environment, Alberto might have worn the cufflinks of a business professional, not the cuffs of a criminal, remapping his entire life,” Luitel said.
Similar to Abraham, Anderson is also trying to weed out bias against minorities from communities like Richmond. The budding journalist launched Stage Confessions, an online blog highlighting significant contributions by minority musicians.
“The evening news depicts my people as criminals rather than champions,” Anderson said, adding, “I aim to change that by representing the achievements of minorities.”
Saechao is also pro-actively changing the narrative. Highly active in student government, dance, theatre and a whole lot more, Saechao was among a trio of students to produce a mini-documentary series exploring the history of downtown Richmond that envisions its future. The film’s world premiere just took place at CoBiz Richmond on Feb. 21.
The four student winners represent a massive, mostly untapped pool of talent coming from Richmond.
“We were literally blown away by [the scholarship winners’] speeches,” said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager for Chevron Richmond. “We are so excited to see how they continue to develop into our future leaders.”
Alan Davis, general manager of the Richmond Refinery, said the central aim of the annual Black History Awareness Celebration is to “embrace the past, educate the present and enrich the future.”
“Part of the Refinery’s role in Richmond is to honor and support and encourage the next generation of leaders, advocates, scientists, teachers and parents,” Davis said. “At Chevron, we believe that to enable human progress, we need to invest in the people in our community.”