By Mrinal Gokhale
Jerel Ballard is a Milwaukee native and recent graduate of Colombia College in Chicago. By participating in many extracurricular activities while attending Riverside High School, he received more than $40,000 in scholarship funding for Colombia College. But, he felt that this dollar amount wasn’t quite enough.
“I actually had to commute from Milwaukee to Chicago for four years because it was cheaper for me to live in Milwaukee, and that’s when I realized there was something wrong with the system,” he said. This year, Ballard founded the Milwaukee’s Finest Scholarship Foundation to provide Milwaukee high school seniors with financial assistance to go to college. The first round of winners were honored on June 30, 2017 at City Hall Rotunda at 6 p.m.
“We require applicants to have at least a 2.5 Grade Point Average (GPA), as well as involvement in a lot of extracurricular activities,” said Jeff Frank, Foundation’s Board of Trustees member. “There are five of 60 applicants chosen for this award.”
Margaret Fish teaches at Milwaukee Public Schools and sits on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. She told the crowd that she has known Ballard since he was in eighth grade and is passionate about MFSF’s mission.
“Our mission statement is to encourage all students who have ambitions for higher education by providing an equal opportunity for financial assistance,” Ballard said.
“One reason we decided to partner with MFSF is because we believe in Jerel,” said Dionne Grayson, Executive Director of Lead2Change.
Each scholarship recipient was presented with a certificate signed by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barret, as well $1,000 to go towards higher education. This year, applicants were required to write essays on social justice.
Scholarship recipient Ah Xiong read her essay to the crowd. She detailed the statistics of the very segregated Milwaukee and explained how she learned to value diversity and appreciate different types of people once she got to high school.
“I attended an all Hmong school for nine years and had no exposure to diversity, and then I went to Riverside High School,” she said. “I learned to make many different connections with different types of people.”
Xiong plans to attend Toccoa Falls College and study Cross Cultural Studies.
“When I read her essay, I felt that it truly captured the spirit of the foundation and answered the question, ‘How has Milwaukee shaped you?’” said Ballard. All recipients this year were women, and majors range from political science to early childhood education to the sciences. Most applicants attended either Rufus King (21.7 percent) or Riverside High School (15.2 percent).
The evening ended at about 7:30 p.m. when attendees mingled and enjoyed cake, appetizers and drinks.