A bright opportunity for high school seniors is growing in Brooklyn through a new academic scholarship award. Fundraising efforts for the Jesse and Wendy's: Neighbor to My Neighbors Educational Advancement Scholarship launched this month, seeking to aid high school seniors in Bedford Stuyvesant pursuing a post-secondary education.
Behind the scholarship is 29 year-old Bed-Stuy native Chelsea Bowens. The namesake of the award is derived from Bowen's parents, Jesse Bowens and “Wendy” Alberta Willis. Her parents’ involvement and commitment in Bowens’ life and on their Vernon Avenue block was the catalyst for the scholarship.
“It’s a way to commemorate my parents' love for their children as well as their capacity for building and supporting our community,” said Bowens via email. “It allows me to promote the idea that community is powerful and it is necessary.”
Jesse and Wendy died in 2021 and 2020 respectively. Left behind inlcuded her brothers Caleb and Chalil, their home on Vernon Avenue and words of wisdom.
“My mother says, ‘You can do anything that you put your mind to,’” recalled Bowens. “And then I kind of extended it to say, you can't do it alone," as you need a village to raise a chid, she added.
“My mom was the block association president for a very long time and she made sure that her kids, including the neighborhood kids, had access to whatever was going on in New York at the time,” said Bowens, reminiscing on going ice skating, attending the UniverSoul Circus and youth programs at Restoration Plaza, run by the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.
“The street that I grew up on was really a family-oriented block,” said Bowens. “My parents were instrumental in making that a fact.”
Bowens currently works as an administrative assistant at real estate company Gemini Rosemont, but wears other hats. She has a background in psychology and school counseling, the latter from her master’s education at Fordham University.
Bowens said when she graduated in 2020, opportunities were scarce at the Title I schools she aspired to serve, which primarily host students of color. This however, wasn’t the only issue she saw.
“Throughout my internships, I saw what the school counselors were going through,” said Bowens, who interned at public and charter schools in the city. “It was like, 250 students to one person and trying to give them all the attention that they need is not necessarily what I want to do.”
Bowens also volunteers as a secretary for the NAACP’s Brooklyn branch. Walking into her first NAACP meeting in 2018, she was awestruck by the groups of black women engaged in several community endeavors such as education, politics and health.
“Being involved with them, they encourage me to really pay attention to what's happening in Brooklyn so that I can be a part of the change that's occurring and potentially influence the change that's happening,” said Bowens, naming figures such as branch President, L. Joy Williams and state Assemblymember Stefani Zinerman.
Bowens hopes the scholarship develops into a robust program that connects residents to public service.
“We will have alumnae that stand as examples of how our neighbors can serve our community as well as examples of the amazing people coming out of Bed-Stuy,” said Bowens. “Together we will honor the history of our neighborhood and continue to build a future Bed-Stuy that's worth coming home to.”
High school seniors who wish to apply for the scholarship can do so between March 1 through April 1. So far, fundraising efforts have raised about $1,000, with the goal of raising $3,000 by March 15– enough to grant two recipients, according to Bowens.