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Professionals encourage BSHS seniors of color to ‘Be the Change’

College and career coach Brandy Ashford urges students at Bryan Station High School to consider the vast variety of opportunities in their future and to figure out how to get there. Her latest effort brought together a seven-member panel of young professionals of color to help promote the new “Be the Change” scholarship. “Representation matters, and our goal is to educate students about the pathway to the career and to help them see themselves serving in such roles,” Ashford said. “We wanted to make sure they heard from people working in these fields.”

The “Be the Change” college scholarship competition is open to BSHS seniors of color who are committed to attending a Kentucky college or university for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field (police studies, social justice studies, pre-law, forensic science, emergency medical care, fire protection, homeland security). The winner will receive $20,000 per year in financial assistance, thanks to the support of Central Bank and Galls of Lexington. “All our systems should represent the community they serve. We can talk about inequities all day, but what are you going to do to make it better? This (scholarship) removes a barrier,” said Devine Carama, director of ONE Lexington in the mayor’s office.

The panelists included an assistant Commonwealth’s attorney (prosecutor) in Louisville, an assistant general counsel at the University of Kentucky, a local firefighter, two Lexington Police officers, and two school resource officers assigned to Bryan Station. Each fielded questions about what prompted their career choice, what a typical day is like, and what is the best advice they can offer interested students. They also shared personal stories of their work experience.

Whitney Stepp-Gay, the lawyer at UK, recalled walking in for a deposition wearing a sharp business suit and carrying an impressive briefcase, but still the staff did not take her seriously at first. “If you’re a black woman, you’re the clerk or the paralegal. You’re never the attorney,” she said. Stepp-Gay, who grew up in Versailles and attended the University of Maryland, urged the teens to stay focused on their goals. “Make sure you keep your circle tight with the right people around you, and remember you can do it, too,” she said. “We are starting behind, but it’s getting easier because we have opportunities our grandparents didn’t have.”

Leonel Frias, a senior who plans to attend Eastern Kentucky University and become a firefighter, appreciated hearing the panelists’ perspectives. “They took that path and made it, so their advice is great. Seeing people of color make it inspires us,” he said, adding, “The more you know the better. It opens your mind to look at all the possibilities.”

Contact: Brandy Ashford has copies of the “Be the Change” scholarship application. The deadline is Jan. 28.

(Posted Jan. 16, 2022)