Ayana Williams already sounds like a civil rights leader. The Howard University School of Law student is fervent in her support of prison reform and putting an end to mass incarceration.
More than 800 hundred miles away in Selma, Alabama, Micah Watkins attends Concordia College and hopes to eventually transfer to the University of Illinois with engineering foremost on his mind.
Williams and Watkins both got a little closer to their dreams thanks to the NAACP’s annual Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) Scholarship program, which awarded Williams a three-year, $30,000 scholarship and Watkins a four-year, $8,000 grant.
“Because of the scholarship, I certainly feel less financial pressure,” said Williams, who recently had the honor of being pinned by her sister in the traditional Howard Law School ceremony as part of her orientation, where she also met the law school’s Dean, Danielle Holley-Walker. “Equally importantly, though, I feel much more empowered to pursue my dreams with this opportunity. This scholarship is essentially a pass to the world that I was aiming to be in for the rest of my legal career and I’m extremely grateful for it,” she said.
Williams’ counts among the five individuals who received the LDF’s newly revamped Earl Warren Scholarship, which targets talented future law students pursuing a career in racial justice and civil rights.
The five students, who attend Columbia, Harvard, UCLA and Howard, also will have the opportunity to intern at LDF and attend its annual lawyers’ training conference.
“I was stunned and in complete disbelief when Kevin Keenan [LDF’s COO] told me I was one of the final ten,” Williams said. “I started to imagine all of the opportunities that I could have working with LDF. He also told me that they received over two hundred applications. I have no doubt that they were all very qualified and so I was honored to learn that LDF thought I could offer something to the organization.”
In total, 32 students received LDF scholarships while Watkins was among the 27 to receive the Herbert Lehman Scholarship, LDF’s signature award for undergraduates, which provides $2,000 per year for four years to exemplary students in need of support to complete their degrees.
“The scholarship has changed my life in many ways,” Watkins said. “I was going through financial problems in school and I was threatened with being sent home because I was short $1,000. I got a call from a lady that worked for the LDF scholarship who said that I had won the scholarship.”
It was the closest thing to a miracle Watkins said he had received.
“Winning that scholarship has given me faith and it has helped me to hold my head up high, because I know I have LDF on my side,” he said.
LDF granted awards to students attending such top schools like Brandeis University, Columbia College, Duke University, Florida A&M University, Harvard University, Morehouse College, Smith College, Spelman College and Temple University.
“Both the Earl Warren and Herbert Lehman scholarship programs are transformative tools that help LDF to fulfill its mission to achieve racial justice and expand pathways to opportunity for all people,” said LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill.
“The changes we’ve made to our scholarship programs this year will allow us to provide more substantial support to students in need, and to more directly support the development of the next generation of civil rights lawyers.” she said. “This will allow LDF to more effectively support and nurture young leaders who are committed to the struggle for equal justice and inclusion and who exemplify the promise of democracy in this country.”