Winning Essay by Demarco S. from Iowa
Dr. Kesho Scott, the first tenured African-American professor at Grinnell College, my mentor, and my friend, inspires me. There are only a handful of African-American professors at Grinnell College, let alone a small number of black students. As an African-American student here at Grinnell, I often struggle to make interactions with others because of the vast differences of the school population’s backgrounds, which leaves me feeling isolated. I first heard of Professor Scott from one of my associates; they sensed my passion when it came to issues in our academic environment and recommended that I set up a meeting with her. When we first met I instantly recognized how much wisdom and knowledge she has to offer. Dr. Scott told me of her days as a former member of the Black Panther Party; of her life as a teacher and the many awards she earned; of what it meant to be a minority but to still proceed in the face of inequality. She was instantly aware of my unease, my apprehensiveness of enrolling in an elite, predominately white institution. It was the middle of my first semester, and I constantly demonstrated to my other professors that I was highly skilled with my academics, however the specter of my race and class made me second guess my ability. When I told Professor Scott about this dilemma, she glared directly into my eyes and told me, “You belong here.” At an institution where the number of professors who look like me can be counted on both hands, or one, these inspiring words deeply resonated with me. She continued to explain that her teaching isn’t for recognition, but so the African-American youth enrolled at Grinnell can be inspired. Even though we may be the minority, and often fall victim to the institutionalized racism inside of our academic setting, our voices are invaluable; we can still make the best of our education. Ever since meeting her, she has inspired me to never second guess myself or my ability. She has taught me ways to navigate around Grinnell College in order to obtain what I need in order to prosper. This is my second semester at this institution, but I know exactly how I want my future to look. I will continue to score high in my classes, present research at various conference presentation opportunities, apply for and be accepted by the Mellon Mays Scholars Foundation, become a scholar, and bring knowledge to my community of St. Louis so I, too, can inspire other African-Americans victim to the limits placed by institutional structures. Dr. Scott told me, “Knowledge that you don’t know is a void.” My response to this is to obtain as much information as I can, as to never enter that void again. Dr. Scott is a huge inspiration to me and the other students of color at Grinnell College. In her honor, we will continue to prosper.

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