While attending college, Brenan Latimer and Precious Awopetu saw inequities when it came to obtaining scholarships. Students from affluent communities received much more in scholarships than anyone from their school, Ruskin High in south KCMO.
In high school, Awopetu was a good student, but he had to work a lot harder to receive scholarships. He went on to graduate from Missouri State University with a degree in kinesiology, but because he received fewer scholarships, he had to take out loans to get by.
Seeing those inequities inspired Latimer and Awopetu to find a way to provide more scholarship opportunities to students like themselves, who attended underfunded high schools in the Kansas City area.
So, working closely with Ruskin High School, they created the Future of Us Scholarship organization in February 2020, a unique nonprofit that awards scholarships to high school students based on merit, not metrics like test scores and class rank.
“Rather than using test scores and class rankings as ways to disproportionately distribute collegiate funding, we use interviews and outreach to evaluate our candidates,” said Latimer, CEO of the Future of Us.
The Future of Us Scholarship application is a two-part, character-based process.
For the first part of the application, students submit a prompt in the form of a traditional essay, or in a non-traditional form like a video, music, poetry or interpretive dance. The submission should answer one of the Future of Us prompts, which includes describing their strengths, weaknesses and what they want to change about the world.
“It’s really important to us that we see students for who they are and their desires because a lot of them get overlooked by metrics and data,” Latimer said. “There’s a place for that, but I think it’s an overused data point. Transcripts are just overused and over-weighted.”
The second part of the process is interviewing. That is when Latimer and Awopetu truly see what the students’ personalities are like.
“With the interviewing process, we also want to let the students know we look just like them. We want them to be comfortable talking to us, so we can be a resource as much as possible,” Awopetu, the COO of the Future of Us said.
In their first year, the two have raised enough funding to give out six scholarships to local students: two $1,000 scholarships and four students were awarded ACT prep courses, which cost about $1,000 each. Their funding so far has come from donors and Latimer and Awopetu’s friends and family.
The very first scholarship they awarded was to former Ruskin High School student Myati Vonziah, a first-generation college student who went on to study psychology.
After winning a scholarship, Latimer and Awopetu’s interactions with Vonziah and the other winners doesn’t stop there. A huge part of their program is keeping connected with the students and providing mentorship.
“As a student coming out of high school, sometimes you don’t have the best knowledge of college,” Awopetu said. “I was the first one in my family to go to university, so I didn’t know much about it.”
The two familiarize the winners with what they should know about financial aid, student loans and school registration and drop dates.
“We let every student know that we’re a resource for them,” Latimer said.
While the two started small their first year, they hope to grow awareness in the next year, so they can support more students through college.
“Giving back something is better than nothing, even if we start small and build up,” Latimer said.
The Future of Us is fundraising this summer to provide scholarships to students in the Kansas City area in spring 2022. Applications will open January 2022.
To donate, visit their website: www. thefouscholarship.com/donate.html.
To learn about the upcoming application, visit: www.thefouscholarship.com/apply.html.