Rosa Parks scholars embody success despite setbacks
Detroit — When Malcolm Mosley and Afi-Setut A-Alkebu-Lan hit submit, neither student, weary from dozens of scholarship essays, expected to receive $2,000 awards from the Rosa Parks Scholarship Foundation.
Thanks to the Detroit-based foundation, however, both Michigan high school seniors are among 41 students to be given scholarships. They will attend a luncheon honoring their achievements Thursday at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
“I credit one, my amazing mother, and two, where I grew up and the people I’ve been around have definitely put me on the right track,” Mosley said. His mother moved with him to Birmingham when he was in the seventh grade after they found their Detroit home broken into and everything, including the family’s dog, gone.
At Ernest W. Seaholm High School, Mosley played upright and electric bass and performed concerts alongside his conductor and on his own. He plans to continue his music career at Michigan State University, where he will study either music business or music production and write and produce his own music.
“I feel prepared to enter the work world around me, prepared to be an active member of society,” he said.
The foundation awards scholarships to students who make a way for themselves to participate in the future despite challenges and setbacks, foundation president and board member Kim Trent said.
That’s why this year’s luncheon speaker is Robert Thomas, who emancipated himself from the Detroit foster system at 15, supporting himself from Detroit Northwestern High School through law school.
“He came through very beautifully,” Trent said. “He’s a great role model. A lot of our scholars have had a lot of odds against them.” Trent met him while she was visiting motivational speaker Gail Perry-Mason, who spoke at last year’s luncheon.
Trent said the foundation looks for students with a strong sense of self and a voice that can effect change.
Both Mosley and A-Alkebu-Lan have already made a difference in Detroit during their high school careers.
Mosley helped run a nonprofit music show and donated the proceeds to Vandenberg World Cultures Academy in Southfield, a school that teaches English to non-native speakers and helps refugees adjust to life in America.
A-Alkebu-Lan, who graduated from Cass Technical High School, helped start an anti-bullying club on campus. Using her own lesson plans, she spoke to local middle school students about bullying and how to stop it.
She plans to study aviation engineering technology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, where she also will pursue her pilot’s license — thanks to the airport on campus.
A-Alkebu-Lan knew she wanted to fly and work with planes when she went to Japan two years ago with a group of seven other Detroit students and Mayor Mike Duggan.
“The flight was 18 hours,” she said. “I thought, ‘If that pilot could do it, I know I could do it.’ After I went there, I just wanted to travel the world all the time. It was definitely eye-opening — the world is different.”
She said she aspires to have her own aviation company that supplies planes to commercial airlines.
The foundation named Ford Motor Company mechanical engineer Anthony Rencher alumnus of the year for his volunteer work with his church as a math tutor, usher and van driver, and for his donations to the fund.
Like this year’s student winners, the award came as a surprise to Rencher, 46, who was a Rosa Parks scholar in 1989 and has worked for Ford since he graduated from the University of Michigan almost debt-free.
“Anytime an organization can help students finance their education, that’s a great thing, and to be a part of that, that helped me,” he said. “Some of my peers are still paying off that debt to this day.”
The foundation was created in 1980 by The Detroit News, Detroit Public Schools and the Butzel Long law firm. More than 1,000 graduates have been awarded more than $2 million since its inception.
Trent said she has stayed on the board because she is inspired every year by the attitude of giving back and making a difference that characterizes Rosa Parks scholars.
“People of this generation get an unfair reputation for being a little self-involved, the ‘selfie generation,’ but I feel very inspired to read these essays,” Trent said. “That’s why I’ve been on the board, really: In the end, it makes you feel confident in the future.”