College Not Prisons: Black Skeptics Los Angeles’ “First in the Family” Humanist Scholarship

In 2013, Black Skeptics Los Angeles (BSLA) spearheaded its First in the Family Humanist Scholarship initiative which provides resources to undocumented, foster care, homeless, and LGBTQ youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. Responding directly to the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline in communities of color, BSLA is the first atheist organization to address college pipelining for youth of color with an explicitly anti-racist multicultural emphasis. According to the Education Trust West, if current prison pipelining trends persist, only one of every twenty African-American kindergartners in California will graduate from a four-year university in the state over the next decade. These trends are especially relevant for foster care youth, who are more likely to become incarcerated or homeless by young adulthood and have some of the lowest college completion rates among youth groups. It’s estimated that nearly 70 percent of the California prison population is comprised of foster youth.

BSLA received applications from outstanding South Los Angeles students who are challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, and injustice in their schools and communities. Over the past two years, the fund has received generous support from organizations like the American Humanist Association, Foundation Beyond Belief, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Atheists United, as well as from scores of individuals from humanist and atheist communities. Awardees received up to $1,000 in scholarships to assist with their tuition, room/board, books, and other academic resources. Although the effort is local, Black Skeptics would like to partner with other secular organizations to make it a national initiative.

As part of their essay requirement for the scholarship, 2013-2014 winners were asked to discuss how humanism related to social justice activism.

Jamion Allen

Washington Prep HS
(now attending Southwest College in Los Angeles, CA)

Jamion would like to pursue law and politics, and continue her activism for communities of color:

“In my experience doing peer education workshops, I often find that the homophobic views of young men of color are rooted in religious homophobic speech as well as the image that society sets that says it is wrong to be gay. I have come to believe that what is actually wrong is the acceptance of racist, sexist and homophobic depictions of ourselves. Humanism means freedom from the layers of lies we’ve been told to believe.”

Philip Aubrey

King-Drew Medical Magnet
(now attending Babson College, MA)

Former foster care youth Philip is currently a sophomore at Babson College:

“One very important issue I would like to fix in my community is the matriculation rate of black and brown men. For the last two summers I have been at UCLA studying the barriers that inhibit minority males from advancing on to college. These barriers include gender congruency, incarceration rates, and the list goes on of why black and brown males specifically have a harder time of going on to college. I plan to leave my footprint on Earth by creating a school which will cater to black and brown men and encourage the social, cultural, and educational growth of every student at the school.”

Hugo Cervantes

King-Drew Medical Magnet
(now attending University of California, Riverside)

Dreamer Hugo Cervantes aspires to be a novelist and college professor:

“The freedom riders’ brave rides through the Deep South for equality and today’s LGBT and DREAMer movement are examples of humanism: fighting for equality through vehicles of compassion…. Hate can be broken through compassion—the profound self-realization that we are all equal and deserve to be treated equal.”

Kelvin Manjarrez

Gardena High School
(now attending El Camino College in Torrance, CA)

Kelvin Manjarrez was the Freedom From Religion scholarship winner:

“I have always been passionate about our educational system. A wise man once said that: ‘Humanity’s greatest fear is the unknown. This accounts for contrived religions of all sorts, a simple explanation to the unexplained…. Citizens who are better educated can better distinguish between right and wrong.’ This, in turn, generates understanding and unity amongst different groups of people who would have otherwise segregated, fought and killed one another.”

Victory Yates

Washington Prep HS
(now attending California State University, Long Beach)

Victory is a former foster care youth who would like to pursue a career as a juvenile justice attorney and advocate:

“My future non-profit organization will empower youth of color so they can live better lives and advance their communities. I want to transform low-income communities into safer places. As a believer in humanism, I think that it’s everyone’s moral obligation to address these injustices. I’m proud to have been involved with the Women’s Leadership Project. I became involved because I just can’t sit idle.”