2017 Legacy Scholarship Recipient - Chelby Sterling

This year’s recipient of the 2017 Legacy Scholarship is Chelby Sterling. Out of 40 different applications, Chelby’s application stood out from others in many ways. Here is a brief profile our 2017 recipient, in her own words:

Quick Stats about Chelby Sterling

Name: Chelby Sterling

Student High School Cumulative GPA: 4.1

Student ACT: 34

College Attending in Fall: Emory University

Chelby’s Legacy at BFHS

In high school, what legacy did you create and how will your legacy impact your community? Furthermore, what legacy do you intend to create in college and beyond?

My phone buzzed on the chair of my desk in English. It wasn’t until class was dismissed that I saw that I had three missed calls from the contact person at the Ochsner Health System Blood Center. I immediately called back and began to discuss the details of Benjamin Franklin High School’s first biannual blood drive. It would occur over the course of two days, as to give everyone a chance to donate. The posters advertising the date and procedure would be posted in areas frequented by juniors and seniors, since they were the only ones of age to donate.

Organizing school-wide fundraisers had always been a fun task, but this was the first one to which I truly felt connected. As a child, my grandmother would always let me sleep in her big t-shirt that read “Natchitoches Parish Blood Drive.” When I was old enough to read, the t-shirt’s words sparked a conversation. My grandmother explained the importance of donating blood and becoming an organ door, and it resonated with me. For years, I would accompany her to blood drives, but it was not until my freshman year, that I realized the impact that I could have in increasing awareness.

I began drafting the schedule for all the people who signed up to donate. The upbeat tone of the WWL TV news broadcast played in the background, advertising a blood drive for a recent car crash victim. In the days leading up to the event, the family had been offering larger and larger incentives each day to make for a larger turnout. Upon hearing this, a lightbulb went off, we could incentivize junior and senior participation in the BFHS blood drive. I spent several hours on the phone with the Ochsner contact person suggesting ore practical incentives. We jumped from stocked pencil cases to a cost reduction in student fees, to a possible scholarship. After presenting proposals for the school-funded projects and being turned down, I took the scholarship idea and ran with it. Eventually, I teamed up with the blood drive contact person and located a private donor. They agreed to donate $10 for each student that donated blood to a scholarshipfund, that would be given out randomly to a senior who donated in at least one of the two biannual blood drives. I am currently on my fourth year or organizing the blood drive scholarship, and have seen the scholarship bring a myriad of educational opportunities to BFHS students. Implementing this program allowed me to understand the impact that a few people, working together, can have on our community.

Who in your community has a legacy that you seek to model and why?

Carl (Mike) Woodward, site director for the New Orleans branch of College Track is a man that truly inspires me. After writing hundreds of college application essays, I felt like I was coming off too generic. He inspired me, as he does the other students at College Track, a program that guides low-income and first-generation college students towards college, to write this essay that shows the intricacies of one of my largest struggles. A struggle that he also faced.

“America through the eyes of a white black woman,” the title of my PhD dissertation when it comes out in mass paperback. I have always been aware of the differences in the treatment of black women and white women by others. I have experienced the privileges of being an extremely light-skinned woman in America. On the other hand, I also know what it is like to have people assume that I am missing my black parent, instead of my white one. I am familiar with the shocked glare that comes with putting “African-American” on an application, and then showing up being as pale as the white shirt that comes with the uniform. I know the vindictive effects of dog whistle politics. Growing up in Natchitoches and New Orleans, Louisiana where loads of light skin people identify as neither white nor black, but creole, caused confusion. Considering everyone in my family was different tones of black, I found importance in exploring the differences between creole, black and all other racial identifications, so I could know where I fit in. I could not relate to the homogenous white families that did not receive confused looks in public that my family received because none of our complexions matched. I could not relate to the black families that all attended Baptist church on Sunday and listened to a full gospel choir, because my family had been Catholic for generations.

As I got older and became interested in social justice issues, and started doing my research, I saw some astounding statistics. The differences in the gender wage gap was even larger for women of color than for white women, black women had higher rates of cervical cancer than white women, black women make up only 19% of the women in congress. “Where do I fit into this?” has always been my question, which statistic applied to me what should I worry about fighting back against? There are multiple hurtful racial stereotypes that I can work to dismantle, these are clearly evinced when someone assumes that a black girl with a softer grain of hair must be mixed with another race or when people state that someone who uses less slang and speaks proper grammar, “talks white.” I am aware of the differences between growing up white and growing up black. Most importantly, I see the importance of understanding one’s own culture and continuing to participate in cultural legacies, but I also see the necessity of a unity that only comes when different races and cultures understand and respect each other’s differences.

What made you apply for this scholarship and how do you intent on using the scholarship funds?

To whom much is given, much is expected. Those are my words to live by, passed down to me from my grandmother. The “something” that I was given cannot be singularly quantified because it was given in the form of support, love, and belief in ending the cycle of struggle. I am ready to show my grandmother that her prayers have been answered. I am ready to thank my past teachers for making sure I had one textbook that I couldn’t afford. I am ready to give back to all the smiling faces in my city that kept my spirits up. I attribute my success to the work ethic instilled in me by my elders, specifically my grandmother and mother. They grew up in a society where one of the most dangerous things to be was a black woman, yet, they still worked hard to make a place for themselves in their respective industries. I would like to be considered for this scholarship in order to help pay for my books while attending Emory. I plan to major in political science and African American studies, and eventually attend law school. 

Let's wish Chelby good luck on her journey, and also encourage our other college bound seniors to keep pushing!