South Central Scholars funds futures

imageSouth Central Scholars alumnus Ricardo Elorza always knew he was college bound, but he also knew he had hurdles to overcome before reaching that goal.

In 1998, Elorza came to Pico-Union at age 11 from Mexico.

“Right at the onset, being an immigrant from Mexico, language was a great barrier for my success,” Elorza said.

Elorza, who attended Manuel Arts High School, explained that in school he would see apathy from some teachers, students, and administrators, in addition to a lack of resources and space in classes. According to Elorza, drug abuse, violence and gangs were “rampant in my high school.”

Elorza said that he would have been a “regular student, but thanks to South Central Scholars, I got a world of experiences.”

While many scholarship programs provide the resources for college-bound students to learn about time management, financial aid and careers, South Central Scholars goes a step further. South Central Scholars provides the desperately needed mentorship and scholarships that often make the difference between falling behind and succeeding, Elorza said.

The program focuses on assisting South Los Angeles high school students who exhibit passion and the capacity to succeed in college.

“We’re very much focused on kids who want to give back,” said Meredith Curry, the executive director of South Central Scholars. “We are really about being a family, so we want to make sure that a student’s personal statement, leadership or extracurricular activities show some kind of a passion for working with others and solving issues in their communities.”

South Central Scholars has a competitive application process. Out of approximately 1,000 students that the program reaches out to, roughly 350 apply and about 75 are accepted, according to Curry.

Students are selected based on several criteria: personal statements, test scores, high school transcripts, as well as their college acceptance letters and financial aid packages.

Throughout the year, South Central Scholars provides workshops for middle and high school students — and their parents — to help prepare them for their future academic careers.

The South Central Scholars program was founded by Dr. James London and Patricia London after they were inspired by reading the story of a dozen Crenshaw High school students in And Still We Rise: The Trials and Triumphs of Twelve Gifted Inner-City Students.

“In the beginning, the program was about scholarships, but the Londons found out that kids would end up going to community colleges because they still didn’t have all the money they needed to go to four-year universities,” Curry said. “These students were dealing with a learning curve. It was kind of a culture shock.”

Ricardo Elorza, who graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in English, said that he appreciated the summer conference that South Central Scholars provided before he entered his first year of college. The conferences are meant to prepare students mentally about what to expect in college.

South Central Scholars helped him to “develop a good grasp of what college should be.” Elorza said that the program “became the bridge between excellent and barely getting by.”

Before the program, he said his perspective of careers was limited.

But throughout his time at UCLA, Elorza had four mentors—with whom he still keeps in contact—who helped shape his future path. Now, he is applying to law school and is grateful that one of his mentors is an attorney and has been able to provide him guidance.

imageLike Elorza, Dominique Reese has used her connections from the South Central Scholars program to attend college and find a career.

Reese attended Crenshaw High School and applied to eight colleges, including Princeton, Stanford, USC and UCLA. She was accepted to them all and although she had never been to the East Coast, Reese chose to attend Princeton University.

“I was definitely college bound. I was a self-motivated student. When I was introduced to South Central Scholars, given their mission to support high achieving students in under-served areas, I was a perfect student for the program,” Reese said.

Although Reese grew up in South Los Angeles, she said she could not call the environment an obstacle, but only a distraction that she was determined to avoid.

“Sometimes I’d be doing my homework in front of a window and there’d be a drive by. I would just duck, and when the coast was clear, I would get back to doing my homework,” Reese said.

What she did see as an obstacle was the lack of resources at school. She took it upon herself to learn to fill in the holes in her education. She went to UCLA on the weekends to learn about the stock market, Reese said.

South Central Scholars helped Reese by pairing her with a mentor and providing a scholarship.

Three of Reese’s mentors were affiliated with Merrill Lynch where she interned. Upon graduation, Reese accepted a full-time job with Merrill Lynch.

Beyond graduation, both Elorza and Reese remain active members of South Central Scholar’s Alumni Association, which reaches out to schools that are not yet part of the scholarship program.

As part of her involvement with the Alumni Association, Reese recently secured a $15,000 grant for the College Access Conference and Institute. The eight-month institute will teach middle school students about college once a month.

Since May 2009, Reese has taught economic literacy to youth through the financial business she started in New York City, CommuniTree LLC.

Elorza received a grant to work with University of Southern California faculty member Willa Seidenberg in a project to archive and digitize his high school newspaper, the Toiler Times, which is the oldest high school newspaper in Los Angeles, Elorza said.

“South Central Scholars provides you with the confidence to become a leader,” Elorza said.

Photos courtesy of South Central Scholars


  1. Dominique' says:

    Thanks Raquel, great article!

  2. Thank you Raquel. South Central Scholars is doing a terrific job in aiding scores of South Central Los Angeles high school students obtain higher education degrees.

  3. I enjoyed reading this article, South Central Scholars funds futures. Students Elorza and Reese are the answer to, “how will the world be different tomorrow.” Congratulations for al the hard work!

    ~Marvin Espinoza~

  4. Willa Seidenberg says:

    I think it’s wonderful that there is an organization out there who can tap in the talent that exists in South Central and give these students a chance that students in other neighborhoods take for granted. Having worked with Ricardo Elorza, I can attest to the high quality of students represented in schools like Manual Arts.

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