Meet the 44 Incoming Recipients of the African American Initiative Scholarship

In 2018, the San Francisco Foundation funded the first set of African American Initiative (AAI) scholarships. Administered by the Cal Alumni Association (CAA), these scholarships were awarded to 28 undergraduate students in 2018 and 12 first-year students in 2019 in support of UC Berkeley’s commitment to Black and African American student success.

The African American Initiative is UC Berkeley’s effort to address the underrepresentation of and campus climate for African American students, faculty, and staff and includes steps to improve recruitment, yield, retention, and graduation rates of African American students. The scholarship grants $8,000 annually for up to five years of undergraduate study.

For the 2020–2021 academic year, 44 talented students will receive the AAI Scholarship, making them the largest cohort in the scholarship’s history. This year’s recipients come from all around the world, including 36 students from California. Given the social distancing restrictions of COVID-19, our finalists were interviewed virtually by alumni volunteers around the country.

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A first-generation immigrant student from Ethiopia, Heroda Abera is very passionate about math and science. She is a motivated person who never gives up and tackles every great challenge. She is thrilled to attend UC Berkeley and pursue her dream of becoming an environmental engineer.
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Adunoluwa Akeju is currently a 17-year-old senior from a charter school in Oakland, California. She identifies as Nigerian American. She enjoys singing, dancing, crafting, reading, and gaming. She hopes to become a successful lawyer in order to take care of her family and community.
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Matilda Antwi is a passionate and driven 18-year-old Afro-Latina from the Bay Area. Her diverse background has taught her to take advantage of every opportunity and use it to better herself. She is excited to join the Berkeley community and recognizes her friends and family for always standing by her.
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Francesca Awotwe Arkorful is an 18-year-old Ghanaian American who is greatly motivated by her experiences, interests, the places she’s been, and the places she hopes to go. Francesca spent fragments of her childhood living in various places before settling in Maryland.
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Ifeanyi Ashiedu is from El Sobrante, California. She is a student with sickle cell anemia, a rare blood disorder that causes red blood cells to slim down, stick to veins, and cause pain. Despite this, she became her high school’s valedictorian. Ifeanyi is excited to make friends and study at Cal.
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Marisa Balades has been a Bay Area native all her life. Her experience within the Black community has been unique, as she is Angolan, Mexican, Portuguese, French, and German. Marisa will be majoring in business administration as part of the Global Management Program at the Haas School of Business.
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Jerome Bennett is an optimistic young man who will pursue an education at Cal for his community and to show his younger siblings that they, too, can go to college and be successful.
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Nikkia Bourn is a psychology major from Oakland, California. She is a first-generation college student, and she is passionate about implementing change within her African American community. Nikkia is extremely excited about attending Cal in the fall and can’t wait to become an active member of the Cal community.
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Christina Ellis was born in Singapore and lived there until she was 12 years old, after which she and her family moved to Beijing, China, where she resided for the past six years. Being a global citizen, Christina is committed to creating a culture of kindness within her community.
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Mahiya Ellis is a first-generation college student from Twentynine Palms. She is a resilient leader who wishes to serve in underrepresented communities such as her own. While studying molecular and cellular biology, Mahiya’s professional goal is to become an obstetrician/gynecologist.
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Derek Davis is an incoming freshman in UC Berkeley’s Class of 2024. He grew up in Urbana, Illinois and later moved to Fremont, California. Excited to join Cal’s diverse student body, Derek likes to meet new people and learn about different cultures. After graduating, he plans to pursue a master’s in architecture.
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Kaleb Dawit is from Pleasanton, California and loves problem solving. He’s been solving puzzles since he was a kid, and now he will be pursuing a degree in electrical engineering and computer science. Kaleb is committed to using computer science to improve healthcare access for disadvantaged people.
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Maya Dobson is looking forward to starting her first year at Cal. Growing up in Oakland, she experienced a range of communities and cultures that influenced who she is today. Maya has been involved in several community programs that inspire her, and she hopes to share her experiences with others.
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Lindsay Fokwa Djouka was born and raised in Germany and lives in Riverside. She is beyond excited to begin her journey at UC Berkeley as an intended biochemistry major. This new chapter will allow her to grow and learn while giving back.
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Mumtaz Gababa is first-generation Muslim Ethiopian American, born and raised in sunny Orange County, California. Mumtaz aspires to become a physician in hopes of reducing the racial disparities that exist within the US healthcare system and credits her parents as her inspiration to pursue higher education.
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Mia Garza-Jenkins is a writer from Southern California who wants to use fiction as a way to represent marginalized groups in America.
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Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” This quote by Malcolm X embodies Raven Gatson’s outlook on education. Born in San Antonio, Texas, she is ecstatic to continue pursuing higher education in the Bay Area.
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Jordyn Gleaton will major in political science at UC Berkeley. She is very passionate about social justice and helping others. Jordyn aspires to be a district attorney in order to help underrepresented communities, including her own.
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Amber Goring is an ambitious first-year who was born and raised in Inglewood, California. Amber is passionate about dance and performance arts as a whole, as well as film, writing, traveling, and helping others. Her desire to be helpful and her passion for fighting against some of the issues plauging our society led her to become part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, her school’s Black Student Union and Intersectional Feminism Club, Girls Build LA, and other public-spirited organizations. This same passion plus her persistent curiosity is why she is pursuing a degree in sociology.
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Anysa Gray is from East Palo Alto, California. She is resilient, focused, and humble. Anysa is passionate about social justice, equity, advocacy, and music. She will be playing on Cal’s women’s soccer team along with her twin sister. Anysa plans to major in legal studies with a minor in Spanish.
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Reem Harrati is an 18-year-old student, artist, and activist from Mendon, a small town in Massachusetts. She is the daughter of two Moroccan immigrants, and the first person from Nipmuc Regional High School to get accepted to UC Berkeley, where she intends to major in economics on the pre-law track.
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Zewditu Herring lives by the Berkeley motto, Fiat Lux, which has helped her see the light in dark times to keep her academically motivated. Raised in Oakland and passionate about computer science, Zewdi plans to pave the way for more women of color in the STEM.
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Zora Hudson was born in Manhattan and grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil. A competitive tennis player, she is passionate about positively contributing to her community through volunteering, writing, science, and sports. As a global citizen, she is committed to strengthening the connections between the Black communities worldwide.
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Heaven Dashennay Jones is from Newark, California and went to Newark Memorial High School. She is the eldest of all of her siblings—more than eight of them! She is the first to go to college and will attend UC Berkeley and then go to medical school.
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Daniella Lake is a first-generation Sierra Leonean American from Los Angeles. She is passionate about community service, storytelling, and uplifting diverse experiences through media, advocacy, and service.
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Tyonna Little is an ambitious hard worker who has desired to be a lawyer for more than half her life. Along with being a top honors student and primary caretaker in her home, she took part in five school clubs, one of which was the National Honor Society, for which she was president for two years.
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Christine Mazzi Christine Mazzi is a 17-year-old Ugandan American living in the Bay Area. In her free time, Christine leads ProjectWOC, an Instagram-based community organization that empowers young girls of color. She is a natural leader and hopes to use her skills in the field of healthcare.
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Rickey McGregor describes himself as an outlier because growing up in South-Central Los Angeles, he saw and endured a lot—but he made it out. With everything going on, he almost succumbed to his environment. However, his circumstances drove him to keep pushing and instilled in him a desire to help his community.
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Danashi Messele is a student from Sacramento, California who will be studying in the College of Letters and Science as an intended computer science major. In his next chapter of life at Cal, he will spend his time by learning and using the university’s resources to prepare himself for his career.
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Osemudiabhen Okodogbe is a first-generation African American student raised in Stockton, California. Her dream is to land an office in government finance positions to influence the circulation of money, help the economically disadvantaged, and advocate for those who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves in political matters.
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Ogechukwu Okpala is a proud Nigerian American who has a love for altruism and a good laugh. She is from Orange County, California, and her experience growing up in this diverse area shaped her appreciation for open-mindedness and inclusion in her education. She plans to become a biotechnology researcher.
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Yosolaoluwa Olakunle comes from a Nigerian household consisting of a strict upbringing and lots of food. She plans to become a doctor. Yosola grew up in a predominantly white area, causing her to be subject to racism, but these experiences only made her a stronger individual.
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Raghad Osman is a student from Monterey, California who tackles obstacles head on and never backs down from challenges. Throughout her life, she has overcome many discriminatory challenges and has found a passion for uplifting women and young girls who might be battling these same hardships in their lives.
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Jasmine Patterson is 18 years old, from Lakewood, California, and extremely excited to attend UC Berkeley. She will be studying as an intended molecular and cell biology major and hopes to minor in South and Southeast Asian studies.
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Nala Peoples is a driven, conscientious, and witty 18-year-old Californian. Her commitment to academics, community service, and creativity in dance will continue as she embarks on her college journey. She knows Cal and the African American Initiative will guide her to becoming a successful Black woman in engineering.
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At the age of five, Briaunna’s dad was sentenced to life in prison, forcing Briaunna’s mother to become a single parent. Because of this, Briaunna Picart runs track and cross country and tutors kids to encourage them to push through the stigma that surrounds African Americans.
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Brazil Richards is from Southern California. At a young age, she experienced hardships like homelessness. But Brazil persevered and worked hard to give herself opportunities for a better life. She will be studying as a molecular and cell biology major on the pre-medical track.
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Mariah Stennis is a current high school senior from Fresno, California who is ecstatic to begin her journey at UC Berkeley. Mariah’s interests include social justice, political activism, and community outreach, and she will be entering Berkeley as an intended political science major.
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17-year-old Jajanai Stradford was born and raised in Sacramento, California. Her diverse family inspired her to create a more accepting, equal society in which everyone lives harmoniously together. With improving the environment as another goal of hers, Jajanai plans to major in environmental science with a minor in political science.
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Nibras Suliman is a first-generation Sudanese American from Hayward, California. As a Black, Muslim woman and a daughter of immigrants, she finds that the intersection of her identities is oftentimes the source of her strength and creativity.
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Jelani Rashan Sweet is an African American student athlete hailing from Hackensack, New Jersey. He is an intended political science major and plans to compete as a member of the men’s gymnastics team.
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Alexis Turner is a 17-year-old from Fairfield, California. She has dreamed of attending college for all four years of high school and has worked hard to get to where she is now. She is dedicated and determined to make her dreams a reality at UC Berkeley and that fact shows through her work ethic.
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Wesley Veiga is a senior at West Campus High School in Sacramento, California, where he was born and raised. Wesley is a perfect fit for UC Berkeley, his dream school, because he is eager to learn as well as support the Black community at Cal.
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Kaileia Velasquez is a 17-year-old business major from Vallejo, California. She has been attending community college since she was 13. Seeing what homelessness, poverty, and addiction does, Kaileia wants to be a business owner that provides jobs and opportunities to others that will allow them to become independent.

Comments

What an outstanding group of scholars! So excited for them and how they will change the world.
Wow ! What an outstanding and talented group of young adults. A beautiful match of wonderful potential with a marvelous institution, commonly and affectionately known as “Cal”.
WOW ! ! What an outstanding gathering of outstanding and talented young adults with seemingly unlimited potential. Hopefully they will thrive and grow at our beautiful institution that we commonly and affectionately refer to as “Cal”.
Thank you for this inspiring line up of incoming Cal students! While the current Federal administration has me constantly feeling gloomy and pessimistic for the future of our country, these students leave me feeling hopeful and smiling.
Terrific details about these outstanding incoming students. Great to have news about Cal’s outreach efforts. Thank you for giving us all a touch of hope and optimism at this difficult time. Dr Valerie Herr, lifetime Cal Alum
What an outstanding group of young people. It is great to see a few are going to major in engineering That will equal the entire Black population in the College of Engineering 1957. BS Mechanical Engineering 1957
I hope the CAA has allocated funds to follow these 44 AAI scholarship recipients throughout their years at Cal. It would be very important for future fundraising to measure how many students graduated and achieved the goals they professed in these interviews. Donors are looking to “invest” in measureable outcomes. Best of luck to these 44 inspiring young scholars!
I never seen a incoming class of black scholars from all over the world. This group of 44 is the first time that I actually see the best Black students at Berkeley. It is a lot more of them than I thought there was. I am saddened I never got to work with any students like these While I was attending Cal.
Inspiring group of young hearts and minds!! You should DOUBLE their scholarship money!
Beautiful. Love to see it. What can I do to help them? I’m here!
I am excited to hear that my daughter Poppy, incoming freshman, will be attending Cal alongside such an inspiring and diverse group of young minds! Exciting times await them all!
My firm has paid internships for summer and fall if any of this stellar group of young scholars needs to work.

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