Lisa’s winning essay:
I remember when I used to go to work with my mother. Whenever she was not too occupied, she would let me sit on my pink Cinderella chair by her desk so I could complete my homework as I listened to her contact clients. My mother sounded so strong, confident and even mean sometimes when something was not going as she expected. I was inspired by her boldness and control, and I hoped to one day make her proud of me as I was of her. I recall mostly my mother’s active involvement in causes that impacted our community, such as advocating to protect a native natural reserve near our neighborhood, and organizing fundraisers for lower income areas and families in our city in Brazil. Whenever I expressed my admiration for her work ethic and success, she was quick to correct me, emphasizing that although we should acknowledge our accomplishments, what matters most is how we can channel them towards improving our community. My naive eleven-year-old self did not fully understand the meaning of those words, yet among many lessons I have easily forgotten, this one has never left my mind, and has strongly inspired me to activate positive change in my community.
As a Black woman, I valued any opportunity to actively support a cause or lead collective action towards change. In Brazil, during my senior year of high school, I was Class President and part of the Graduation Committee, mainly advocating for low-income students who were not able to afford the exorbitant costs of graduation events. The original plan was to split the entire budget evenly among students, high costs that many were not able to afford. I suggested to reduce the amount to be paid by the student body, and gather funds from other sources instead, such as voluntary donations from parents that were interested in a larger ceremony, raffles, sale of goods, and negotiating prices with suppliers. The student body was more than happy to incorporate the idea into our plans, we were able to organize the event without compromising quality and the celebrations were a success.
I kept myself busy during Senior year of high school. When our class was invited to participate in an inter school competition, I was chosen to lead our team to (hopefully) victory. The competition involved two themed dance performances, gathering a set weight of recyclable materials, building costumes and scenarios for our presentations and completing tasks that would be given at the day of the competition, about a month after the event had begun. It also required planning a fundraiser for a non-profit of our choice, which sparked my interest to run for the leader position. The team that gathered the largest donation and organized the overall best event would win the most points. For our fundraiser, I proposed to explore the beautiful diversity of our city, Salvador, the largest Black community outside of Africa with Black identifying individuals constituting over 80% of the population. Our team invited Black artists, writers, musicians, poets, and professors to perform and celebrate our culture. After a rather successful auction of pieces donated by our kind special guests, we generated over R$6,000 for Ilê Aiyê, an organization that supports and promotes black artists. I was overwhelmed with happiness as our team was officially announced the winner.
After I moved to Los Angeles to enroll at Santa Monica College, I was eager to further pursue opportunities to coordinate change in my new community. I decided then to join the Associated Students (Student Government) organization as Publicity Commissioner, strategizing and implementing publicity projects to promote engagement within the community of 30,000 students. I was also Student Representative of the Title IX and the Human Resources Committees, leading meetings with faculty and staff to establish new policies for preventive and affirmative actions on campus, and organizing events on campus to increase awareness of new policies and gather suggestions from the student body.
The decision of transferring to Columbia was rather easy. The prestige and honor of being part of such institution and engaging in world-class education was appealing, but I was rather excited about the opportunity of helping transform a historically elitist environment to reflect the current diversity of backgrounds that comprise the school. Currently in my first semester, I am Social Media Representative of the General Studies Student Council, committed to represent the student body and advocate for low income and students of color as myself. I am also part of the Revenue Team at The Columbia Daily Spectator, prospecting small and local businesses for partnership opportunities to promote their brands through our print edition and digital platforms. Our mission as an independent student-run organization is to hold accountable those in positions of power for their decisions, whether it is the University for its impact on the surrounding communities, or even a member of our staff. I am also a fellow advisor at Matriculate, a non-profit organization that focuses on assisting low-income, high-achieving high school students.
I think about my mother’s words whenever I reflect on my own achievements and goals. After graduating I plan on attending Law School, focusing on Civil Rights Law and perhaps pursuing a career in politics. Regardless of social status or background, I believe all should be treated fairly, and unfortunate circumstances are not reasoning for the neglect of human rights. I hope to continue promoting justice and equality through my work, and advocate for the rights of those who are often disregarded, such as prisoners, low income citizens, and children in foster care. Perhaps one day change one’s life as Maxim Smith will through this Scholarship.