CHICAGO — A South Shore High School student has received the first scholarship from the Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation.
DeShawn Thomas, a senior at the school, received $1,982 to honor Ezekiel Taylor, who a Pill Hill father and religious leader killed in 1982. Taylor's daughter, former CNN executive Tenisha Taylor Bell, set up the scholarship to honor Taylor's memory while helping young black men who have been "overlooked" in Chicago, she said.
Thomas had to write an essay about how he's been impacted by Chicago's violence and how he wants to help stop it. The school picked the top three of the submitted essays and sent them to the Taylor Scholarship Foundation's directors, who voted on the winner.
Bell surprised Thomas with a check for the scholarship at school on Tuesday.
An excerpt from Thomas' essay:
I want my community to be spoken in the same breath as the more wealthier neighborhoods in Chicago such as Lincoln Park, the Gold Coast community, Hyde Park (the home of the President and First Lady), Wrigleyville, I want South Shore to be recognized in the same breath as those vibrant communities but it all starts with a collective effort and I believe that it starts with me ... .
My way of stopping the violence is through examples of being a leader, just in the same way that my team depends on me as CAPTAIN of the Student Council Committee and Fashion program I want to lead by example. I want to be a leader off of the school grounds in my community. I want people to look at me the same way people look at Ezekiel Taylor, whom worked for every single ounce of everything he has achieved in his Hall of Fame career as a Father.
It was tough to choose which essay writer would get the scholarship, Bell said, but Thomas stood out because he's "unique." The senior is passionate about fashion and helping his community.
"How he could give back was important to me," Bell said.
Bell and her mother created the Ezekiel Taylor Scholarship Foundation, which specifically looks to help young black men or boys who have faced adversity, and are offering the first scholarships from it this year. She hopes the foundation can help men who faced the same challenges as the young man and teens who killed her father.
Taylor was leaving church when three people — 21, 19 and 15 years old — tried to steal his car. Ezekiel fought back and was taken to a motel, where he was shot and killed.
Years later, Bell was again exposed to the city's violence when she helped cover it for CNN. She wrote about her father's slaying, but decided she could do more to help young men succeed and, in turn, stop the shootings.
“I said to myself, 'I can’t keep talking about the problem if I’m not part of the solution,'” Bell said.
Unlike other scholarships, these ones aren't limited to A or B students who want to go to four-year universities.
Instead, Bell hopes to be more inclusive, opening the scholarships up to those who plan to go to two-year colleges or trade schools. The foundation is also looking at students who might have struggled academically — after all, maybe not every boy is a great test taker, but there is "something great" in them and the foundation wants to help discover it, Bell said.
The foundation will award multiple scholarships up to $3,000. Students can apply online until April 30.
Supporters can also donate to the foundation online.
“What [the killers] did won’t be forgotten and [Ezekiel Taylor's] life won’t be forgotten, but at the same time we can all do our part to invest in our youth so less young men feel the same way — that they have to go out and rob and steal or take from others,” Bell said. “…We have to each do our part,” Bell said. The boys “have to go the opposite of death. That’s hope, life, saying someone believes in you.”