The contest was started by city Treasurer Stephanie Neely, who said the purpose of the contest is "to engage and educate our young people about black history."
The deadline to submit a 500-word essay answering the question “What is the most inspiring lesson we can learn from the life of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela?” is 4 p.m. Feb. 11.
To be eligible a student must be a high school senior, have completed 50 community service hours, have a 2.5 GPA, plan to attend an accredited two- or four-year school after graduation, and must attend Chicago Public Schools, which includes charter high schools.
Students can go online to download an application, which must accompany the essay along with an official transcript, letter of recommendation from a teacher, counselor or college coach who is familiar with the student’s academic work, and a college letter of acceptance.
Neely added that she is not among the judges who will review and select a winner.
"But I do read the essays myself and have found students to be most articulate in their essays," said Neely, who will surprise the winner with a check presentation at their school by the end of February.
The scholarship, is being funded by BMO Harris Bank for the third consecutive year, according to Wendy Raymer a spokeswoman for BMO Financial Group.
Moving forward, Neely, who also sponsors an online marketing contest, a business plan writing contest and an elevator pitch contest, would like to increase the number of scholarships and amount.
"When I first started the essay contest, the winner received a $350 scholarship, but since 2009 we have been able to keep it at $1,000," Neely said. "Last year we received 200 entries so I would love to double the number of submissions this year."
Neely, a North Kenwood resident, single mother of a 15-year-old son and a founding board member of Urban Prep Academy High School in Englewood, added that college tuition is steadily rising, and "while some people may think a $1,000 is a drop in the bucket I think it is a significant amount to put toward college expenses."