Funded by the San Francisco Foundation in 2018 and administered by the Cal Alumni Association, the African American Initiative (AAI) Scholarship has been awarded to more than one hundred scholars since its inception.
We are very proud of these thirty scholars and their drive to make a positive impact in the Black community at Cal. The AAI Scholarship provides financial support to help make their Cal education more accessible. Scholars will also participate in programs and activities hosted by African American Student Development so that they can enjoy their time at Cal, excel academically, and graduate.
This year’s scholars come from all around the world: twenty-three California students, four out-of-state students, and three international students. Please join us in congratulating the 2023 – 2024 AAI Scholars.
Introducing the 2023 – 2024 Cohort
Islamyaat “Izzy” Bakre
Islamyaat Bakre, better known as “Izzy,” is a Nigerian-American woman born in Cleveland, Ohio but raised around the world, from California to Nigeria, by her single mother. Izzy loves learning and engaging with anything involving music, language, and culture. Izzy has a few favorite places she has visited and lived in and she has even made an effort to learn the language. She is now able to speak Korean and Spanish decently. Izzy values making people feel heard and understood. She has taken her passions and developed a K-pop organization, TreasurexGlobal, which hosts events for diverse communities, creates business partnerships, and builds memories through K-pop music—yes, those BTS people. Her 84-year-old great-grandma said in disbelief, “You’re a Nigerian-American holding events for Korean artists in America?” Izzy aspires to make her passions into a career of providing artist development, business marketing, and event organizing services in the K-pop industry. As a changemaker, she is compelled to adopt ethical business habits in the pursuit of innovating industries. She wants to make a mark on the world that is more impactful than a K-pop club. She wants a legacy of innovators with the motto, “Enjoying Life Together.”
Nimrod is an incoming student from Oakland, CA.
Jesulayomi Bellois a British-born Nigerian with a desire and fondness for new experiences. Jesulayomi is passionate about the weather and plans to further her interest by studying Atmospheric Sciences at Berkeley. Over the years, Jesulayomi has lived in multiple places, allowing her to grow as a curious and imaginative person. Jesulayomi enjoys learning new things and exploring new experiences, especially ones that have the potential to have a significant impact on her community and future students. Jesulayomi has spent the past few years building a sense of belonging within the low population of Black students at her school by ensuring that they are provided with spaces where their concerns and accomplishments are valued and that they are provided with the resources they need to succeed. At Berkeley, Jesulayomi plans to extend her commitment to her community by joining organizations that will, in turn, allow her to express her passion for inclusivity. Jesulayomi is thankful for the African American Initiative Scholarship for giving her the opportunity to do this.
“I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday.” Simon believes everyone can be where they want to be if they take small steps instead of big steps. Because big steps can be hard and they may make you quit what you want the most, but with small steps and patience you can reach anything in life, even the impossible.
Asia Calhoun hopes to inspire people to have fun. Go Bears!
A Bay Area native, Solea Chaidez has spent most of her life dedicated to academics and competitive dance, highlighted in her appearance on NBC’s World of Dance, Season 3. Growing up in the South Bay, where the black population is small, Solea did not have many opportunities to build connections with other African American students. She is excited to begin a new journey at Cal Berkeley of developing community and exploring intellectual curiosities. During the college application process, Solea saw that students of color don’t often have the mentorship necessary to become successful applicants. The African American Initiative is just the sort of collective to change that, and Solea is excited to be part of it. She is interested in being an advocate for high schoolers by sharing with them the many resources and opportunities available before and after they are admitted. She is so grateful to have received the AAI Scholarship and wishes to thank the Cal Alumni Association and its sponsors for this generous award.
Jayden Cox of Bakersfield, California plans to attend UC Berkeley to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. From a young age, he always explored his many interests from rollercoasters to space, and he eventually found a passion for engineering. Inside the classroom, Jayden has taken several AP, honors, and dual enrollment classes that motivated and challenged him academically. Apart from his rigorous coursework, Jayden has been involved with many organizations such as the United Nations, National Honors Society, Mu Alpha Theta, and the Energy Academy. As a musician for about eight years, he became his orchestra’s concertmaster and front ensemble section Leader in the marching band. Now facing college, Jayden plans to achieve even greater heights by immersing himself in a new environment. Located near Silicon Valley, Jayden looks forward to many opportunities to showcase his outstanding creativity and love for design, robotics, and space.
Ava Freeman plans to major in psychology. Ava is from the Bay Area, just through the tunnel in the East Bay. She is thrilled to attend UC Berkeley and connect with the Black community on campus. Ava loves reading, journaling, painting, weightlifting, and spending time with friends and family. Ava is passionate about equity work and amplifying the Black voice. She looks forward to all the great events coming up.
Kennedy Gail Herndon is the daughter of Darrell and Bridgette Herndon. She is a senior at Phillips Academy, a boarding school in Andover, MA. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Kennedy is a Morgan Stanley Jumpstart Scholar, co-founder of the Black Student Union at Phillips Academy, a Suzuki-trained cellist, and a fluent French speaker certified by the French Ministry of France. Kennedy is also a Student Alumni Representative (STARs) at Phillips Academy, which works with alumni to help recruit and fundraise for the school. She is an honors student-athlete and played for two regional teams on the national Adidas and Nike circuits for basketball and lacrosse. Kennedy is now the all-time leading scorer for girls basketball at Phillips Academy, a record previously held for thirty years. Kennedy plans to pursue a career in electrical engineering and computer science and will play Division 1 lacrosse for UC Berkeley. Kennedy hopes to be an ambassador to young Black girls in the surrounding communities for academics and lacrosse.
Lauren James is a former student of the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA. She is the co-student body president, captain of the varsity girls lacrosse team, and co-president of Bridge Club, a civil dialogue club. Outside of school, she volunteers with Fair Fight Action as a declaration writer and is the youth editor of the Black-owned weekly newspaper, The Savannah Tribune. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, hanging out with her friends, and playing with her dog, Julio.
Jazmin Argelis Wilson Jones is an incoming freshman at UC Berkeley. Jazmin graduated from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in La Cañada Flintridge. In middle school, Jazmin was president of the Student Council and was a competitive swimmer. She has been a member of the Pasadena Chapter of Jack & Jill for over four years. Jazmin served as the Teen Vice President and chaplain for the Pasadena Chapter. Jazmin also served as president and board member of the Black Student Union, co-captain of the Comedy Sports team, and was a Kairos leader at FSHA. She is also an avid member of the Feminists in Action and Latinas United in Action affinity groups. Jazmin is passionate about basketball and played varsity at FSHA. Jazmin is a member of the Junior Altar Guild at St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church. She was also a member of the Delta Gems and volunteered in the Inclusion Matters Initiative at FSHA, which focuses on reading to children with disabilities. Jazmin has a witty sense of humor, is kind and confident, and cares deeply. Jazmin is passionate about music, creative writing, and fashion.
Brendan Kariithi was born and raised in the Bay Area. At UC Berkeley, Brendan will be majoring in electrical engineering and computer sciences, joining the great legacy of engineers at Cal. Some of his field interests include loudspeaker design, robotics, and AI. Brendan also loves to run, play basketball, hang out with friends, and travel places. For Brendan, attending Cal is a dream come true, and he can’t wait to see what he will create and experience. Brendan is confident that he and his soon-to-be brothers and sisters at Cal can together uplift and strengthen the Black community at Cal and abroad like never before.
For Jaedon, words cannot describe how much it means to him to receive this scholarship. He cannot wait to build meaningful relationships and simply be a part of something that is so important. Jaedon would like to thank those who interviewed him and those who continue to support this scholarship. He intends to work hard and do his best to prove that he deserves this scholarship!
Ahrian McNeil is a first generation college student from Southern California. Ahrian has been admitted into the College of Letters and Science and has been presented with the opportunity to be at UC Berkeley. Ahrian plans to major in planetary science and aspires to one day work at NASA, and maybe even be the next Neil Degrasse Tyson.
Zaria McCabe always dreamed of living a successful life, not for materialistic things but to provide her loved ones with more than they could ever imagine. She has two loving parents, humorous siblings, and a strong grandfather. Being active and creating art always brings her enjoyment. Born in Virginia and having moved twice, she has experienced life in small towns, rural areas, and the opposite. Zaria maintains a 4.67 GPA and avidly volunteers through organizations like Learning Ally, Loads of Hope, San Joaquin Registrar of Voters, and more. She plans to major in computer science as she has always been compelled to create the programs of the future. Ever since she learned some of the basics of programming during middle school, Zaria loved facing the triumphs and tribulations of creating skilled codes. Zaria seeks to use her education to create artificial intelligence systems. Whether that means creating technology that monitors patterns in one’s DNA to recognize abnormal health statuses or creating algorithms that enable devices to better communicate with humans, she will further her education at UC Berkeley’s College of Letters & Science.
Emile Myers is a Haitian-Liberian from Miami who is excited to start his journey at Cal! Emile is planning to study business and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Black historic business owners like Madam C.J. Walker. When Emile found out that he was awarded the African American Initiative Scholarship, he was incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Emile is looking forward to making meaningful connections and experiences during his time at Cal that will help him achieve his future goals. Emile is planning to get involved in the Black Student Union and hopes to give back to the African American Initiative Scholarship program and the Cal community in the future.
Rhodes is grateful to receive this scholarship as it has helped cover most, if not all, of her financial aid. The scholarship has also ensured her a space on the African American Theme Program floor, which has helped her feel at home.
Allena Oglivie is an aspiring video game developer, software developer, and a woman in STEM!! Allena is a proud Afro-Latina and Panamanian, and she cannot wait to explore the technology world. In her free time, you can usually find her relaxing with family and friends or cuddling in a blanket watching TV shows. Allena loves talking about anime, manga, and video games with anyone that is interested. She is grateful for every opportunity life has given her over the past years and can’t wait to make her dreams a reality.
Kellsey Ogu is part of UC Berkeley’s class of 2027. Kellsey has a passion for creating change and hopes to be involved in the Berkeley community in several different ways. Whether it is volunteering at a local food pantry around Berkeley or leading and being a part of student organizations, she looks forward to spending the next four years at Berkeley while obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Public Health. During her free time, Kellsey enjoys hiking, practicing yoga, and exploring new cities.
Manny is a student from the East Bay who has seen different types of injustices happen around him. This has ignited Manny’s passion for social justice. With the intent of being a lawyer, Manny plans to give back to his community and others alike. Outside of this, Manny enjoys music, spending time with friends, and learning! At Berkeley, he hopes to provide a new perspective and join the path-making for future generations to come.
(R.J.) Rycklon Stephens Jr
Rycklon Stephens Jr attended Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton where he participated in a myraid of activities. He was Student Body Secretary, Black Student Union President, Sacred Heart Preparatory Campus Ambassador, Social Unity Rooted in Justice Leader and Captain of the Varsity Football Team. Rycklon was also a Technology Intern for St. John Missionary Baptist Church and was named Football Player of the Year for San Mateo County. While at UC Berkeley, he plans to study Economics.
Ezra Tramble was born and raised in the Bay Area. Ezra is thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue his academic journey in electrical engineering and computer sciences at Berkeley, where he aspires to create new things. From an early age, Ezra has been captivated by the world of technology. Coding, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, and blockchain have all piqued his interest. Ezra constantly seeks to expand his knowledge in these fields and stay updated on the latest advancements. He loves sharing his learning experiences with others through clubs and organizations. Outside of academics, Ezra likes to play basketball, hang out with friends, hit the gym, and snowboard during the winter months. Whenever he comes across something interesting, he immerses himself in it, asking countless questions and exploring why and how it works. This curiosity ultimately led Ezra to discover his passion for computer science. As a member of the black community, he is passionate about leveraging his skills in computer science to uplift and empower his community. Ezra envisions using technology as a tool for change by creating valuable opportunities for everyone.
Eworitsewarami Justin Wilbert
Eworitsewarami Justin Wilbert is an aspiring computer engineer who has interests in everything related to science and technology. Growing up, Eworitsewarami always knew he would pursue a career in computer science due to his irrepressible love for technology, which can be attributed to his interest in the Marvel and DC comics, especially characters like Peter Parker and Tony Stark. While he is a lover of everything science, he is particularly interested in computing and physics. He hopes to contribute to developing fields, such as quantum computing, in future. He finds inspiration in reading about sustainable energy, EVs, and robotics, fields that he hopes to use CS to improve in the future. Eworitsewarami loves working and connecting with like-minded people. His journey is only just beginning, and Eworitsewarami can’t wait to see what the future beholds. Go Bears!
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