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Women of Color Giving Circle holding high school graduation event Saturday to distribute scholarships

Women of Color Giving Circle

Saturday at 2 p.m., the Women of Color Giving Circle of Pittsfield, Massachusetts is holding its annual graduate event at Berkshire Community College. Stipends and scholarships will be distributed to graduating high schoolers. Founding member Shirley Edgerton spoke with WAMC.

EDGERTON: We have been doing this event for at least 20 years, and the purpose and mission of the graduate event is to celebrate the accomplishment of students who identify of African heritage in Berkshire County, the fact that they are graduating from high school. And it's also an opportunity for the community to come together, all communities to come together to support these students and to provide stipends or scholarship opportunities. So, in collaboration with the Women of Color Giving Circle, the NAACP, and the St. John's Lodge #10, who's based here in Pittsfield, we come together and we provide scholarships and stipends.

WAMC: So, let's look at some numbers. How many students are being celebrated for graduating and what kind of stipends will they be receiving from the Circle?

We have 56 completed applications from high schools throughout the county, particularly for Pittsfield High School, Taconic High School, Monument Mountain, BART Charter School, Wahconah High School as well. Those guidance counselors have been instrumental in supporting the students to complete the application. So, at BCC on Saturday, we acknowledge their accomplishments, their future plans. Some, as we know, will go to work. Others will attend vocational technical schools, and others will be attending community colleges and four-year colleges and universities. At that time, all of those graduates that are there at the event will receive a gift from the Circle of $50, BCC will give them a gift, and then they will complete very simple form for the stipend and scholarships. And then at the Juneteenth Celebration on June 18th, that the NAACP will be hosted in collaboration with a number of other organizations, we present them with their scholarships and stipends. The Women of Color Giving Circle has two $500 scholarships, one in the name of the founding members and another one in the name of Rosemary Durant and Mabel Hamilton. The NAACP will distribute scholarships, stipends to every graduate that completes the paperwork, and usually they're- The amount, last year they gave out $2,000 scholarships to all of these young people. And the Masonic Lodge will make a determination how many scholarships and the amount that they will be providing at the June 18th event.

What kind of narratives are you hearing from these young people that the Circle interacts with as they prepare for this major transition in their lives? Are you hearing anything from young people that sort of feels like a coherent, broadly experienced sense of what it's like to be a student of color in Berkshire County in 2023?

It varies depending on the information and support that the students have received over the years, and that could be from family, from the school system. The stories vary, and often there’s a deep concern about the financial commitment to attend college. A lot of times the information about scholarships just isn’t there. A lot of the young people don't have that information. We try to provide information in regards to colleges within Western Massachusetts, colleges, state universities and colleges, community colleges, as well as HBCUs. So, we try at the graduates event to mention all of these different systems that are available and to make it very clear that any of these organizations that are present and collaborating with us are there to be a resource and a support for them.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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