Meet Our OppU Achiever: Keniece Gray
We’re thrilled to announce the latest recipient of the $2,500 OppU Achievers Scholarship, Keniece Gray! A self-described bridge-builder, Keniece worked to increase diversity and inclusion for underrepresented students in her community and beyond. She will attend Georgetown Law School in the fall.
Keniece grew up in the inner city of Cleveland, Ohio, in a predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhood. She attended public school until high school, when she transferred to Hawken School, an elite private institution ranked number one in the state.
It was during the daily 45-minute commute to her new school that Keniece observed first hand the reality of inequality in the surrounding neighborhoods.
After three years of discontent with the resource disparities, Keniece took her first step in closing the achievement gap. For her senior project, she wrote a college preparatory guidebook titled “College 101.” The book positively impacted her friends attending Cleveland public schools, which often lacked institutional funding for guidance counselors.
This passion continued during college.
Keniece has held seven internships, including one at a large accounting firm. Disillusioned by corporate America, Keniece founded a business club for underrepresented minorities to further discussions about inequity in these spaces.
To add to her achievements, Keniece applied her academic focus on financial literacy in underserved communities to develop financial presentations. The result was “Ballin on a Budget,” an educational presentation about how to navigate the college financial aid process. Thus far, Keniece has presented to hundreds of families around Cleveland.
Adding to her work are Keniece’s capstone paper, “Pass F.L.E.E. (Financial Literacy Education Enrichment): Addressing the Need for Improved Financial Education Curriculum in Ohio High Schools,” and her statistics paper, “The Impact of Poverty and Crime on High School Graduation Rates and Career/Post-Secondary Readiness in Ohio.” In fact, she plans to share parts of the research during Harvard Graduate School of Education’s post-secondary success program.
Keniece will complete Cleveland State University’s Master of Public Administration program in May 2020. In the fall, she will attend Georgetown Law. There, she will explore the intersections of education, civil rights, and employment law. Her dream role is to serve as either a chief diversity officer at a law firm or institution of higher education or as a U.S. secretary of education.
When asked what advice her peers can glean from her story, Keniece said she wants them to know perseverance will help them prevail in spite of the odds. Perseverance and authenticity.
“Your drive will take you much further than any boundaries of your zip code,” Keniece said.
You can read more about Keniece’s achievements in her own words below.
My experiences overcoming adversity in order to access high-quality education and professional opportunities while living in one of America’s most impoverished and segregated cities has equipped me with a skill that enables achievement in unlikely circumstances, mental tenacity. This tenacity has empowered me to exceed the mediocre expectations that society has set for people raised in communities like mine, places plagued by high crime and poverty rates and low levels of education and hope. As one of the few people in my community with access to academic and career opportunities in communities of wealth, I feel obligated to push for equity in such spaces. This sense of obligation motivates me to leverage my platforms of privilege to provide members of under-served communities with resources they need to excel in academia and the workforce.
My position as a minority in terms of age, race, gender, or geographic origin in the classroom and workplace has often made me the target of discriminatory behaviors. While in college, I depended on the mental toughness I acquired growing up to handle persistent encounters with racism, sexism, and classism I faced as the only African –American student in the college’s combined master of accountancy program. Instead of allowing the discrimination to decimate my academic success, I employed strategies that I learned from mentors and inclusion training such as focusing on my strengths and seeking professional help to cope.
In 2017, after graduating and becoming one of less than 35% of people in Cleveland, Ohio, with a college degree, I amplified my commitment to helping other students of color excel academically and professionally. I relied on what I learned about pipeline development while completing seven internships and studying abroad to found Journey to the Board (JTTB), an organization providing underrepresented students with critical career skills. To date, JTTB has sponsored more than 25 student memberships in professional organizations and three passport applications to encourage study abroad. While serving as the International Second Vice President of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., I spearheaded efforts that raised more than $75,000 for minority student scholarships. In 2018, after becoming a member of the nation’s relatively small percentage of Black homeowners, I began educating millennials of color about saving for home ownership and avoiding predatory lending. Last year, while serving as the board development chairman for the local Boys & Girls Club Young Professionals Board, I created the inaugural board diversity assessment that is now being used to ensure board representation is reflective of the Club’s population. Now, I am preparing to attend law school this fall to disrupt the pervasive racial and gender biases in the legal industry and learn how to harness the law for social change.
My story is a testament that the power of the mind is not a joke. I hope that my work inspires individuals from similar backgrounds as me to believe that they too can defy stereotypes and optimize opportunities. More importantly, I hope my story influences others to reach back while climbing forward.
Could you or someone you know use $2,500 for tuition? To apply, submit a short essay through our web portal.
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