Oluwatoyosi F., a senior at Thomas Edison Technical High School in Jamaica, was announced as one of two winners in a national Black History Month Challenge that helps middle and high school students across the U.S. understand the Black experience through perspectives, successes and struggles.
The month-long challenge, created by social impact education innovator EVERFI in partnership with Citizens Financial Group, features four digital lessons and a capstone essay contest in which students share a plan for maintaining a year-round conversation about Black history in their community.
Eleven winners across Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio and New York and one national winner each received a $2,500 scholarship and a brand-new Apple MacBook Pro, courtesy of Citizens Pay.
Oluwatoyosi, 18, said she will use the MacBook Pro and scholarship money for her college education, as she is set to graduate in two months and will be attending John Hopkins University in Maryland. She plans to major in public health studies and become a doctor one day.
For Oluwatoyosi and her parents, who immigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria six years ago, it’s a huge accomplishment.
“Being a low-income, first-generation student, it really meant a lot to me and my parents because it’s an extra burden taken off their shoulders and my shoulders as well,” Oluwatoyosi said. “Winning this challenge made me feel very confident in myself, and it really made my parents happy when I told them about it.”
The Black History Month Challenge ran from Feb. 1 to 28. The challenge featured four digital lessons and a capstone essay contest, which was open to all students ages 13 to 18.
Designed to inspire today’s students by telling stories about the Black experience in America, the Black History Month Challenge empowers young people through the counter-storytelling of Black perspectives across generations, elevates history as a lens to understand current events and transforms students’ perception of the world around them, according to Sabina Chandiramani, senior director of Enterprise Client Services at EVERFI.
The challenge is built around material from EVERFI’s 306: Continuing the Story — Black History Curriculum, which is an extension to the company’s original 306: African American History course that was launched in 2013. Students explored both historical and current events and learned about the many “firsts” that Black leaders have accomplished in the business and medical fields while also showcasing Black professionals who have blazed trails and made significant contributions to their respective sectors.
“We are proud of all the students who participated in the challenge around the country and took the time to submit an essay about what the challenge meant to them,” Chandiramani said.
Oluwatoyosi’s essay topic talked about proposing a project aimed at keeping the conversation about Black history year-round. As a Black woman growing up in America, her main focus was representation. In her essay, she noted that Black history should be a mandated course for high school students.
“Black history is American history. We tend to shy from it a little bit, especially in high schools and middle schools that aren’t predominantly Black. They don’t really teach us about Black history and it makes me feel snubbed and not appreciated,” Oluwatoyosi said. “Right now, most students only recognize slavery as Black history, when there’s more to us — the culture, arts and fashion that isn’t talked about in high school.”
She also talked about creating a talent acquisition and development program alongside a community-based organization for young adults between the ages of 12 and 21 who don’t have access to resources needed to advance their careers. The program would focus on young Black teenagers with a developed interest in the arts, such as poetry, dance and arts and crafts.
“As the co-founder and vice president of my school’s Black Student Union (BSU), I work to ensure that my fellow Black students belong to a supportive community. I’m currently collaborating with my school’s administration to plan discussion panels, workshops and a yearly class project that will be assigned in history classes to raise awareness of Black history. These events will take place throughout the school year and will be arranged in such a way that kids will be excited to learn about Black history,” Oluwatoyosi said in her essay.
Maura FitzGibbon, director of Customer Marketing at EVERFI, said they were blown away by the involvement in the community and to see how the course has impacted students’ lives.
“We were really proud to be able to offer this opportunity to students at no cost,” FitzGibbon said.
Nuno Dos Santos, retail banking director, SVP of Tri State Metro, Citizens, said they’re honored to partner with EVERFI and sponsor the Black History Month Challenge. In addition to supporting the Black History Month Challenge, Citizens works with EVERFI to support schools and teachers in providing students with knowledge around financial empowerment, financing higher education, digital banking safety and early literacy to help them succeed in and outside the classroom.
“When we opened our branches in New York in February, we had a commitment to support our neighborhoods — and these talented and thoughtful students reflect the best of our communities. They bode well for the future of New York City,” Santos said.