Pure joy filled her senses as she walked around Times Square.
Sierra Fareed fell in love with New York City when she made her one and only visit as a 7-year-old but to see it years later as an adult — with fellow Florida A&M University students — proved altogether different.
She knew only one song could crystallize the moment, and it had been playing in her head since she got off the airplane at JFK. So she donned her headphones, pushed play and listened to Alicia Keys sing Empire State of Mind as she soaked in all the sights.
In New York,
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There's nothing you can't do,
Now you're in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Let's hear it for New York, New York, New York
It's a beautiful moment, but one Fareed says may have never occurred if she hadn't received a City of Tampa Black History Committee scholarship in 2009 that covered all of her costs.
It's the time of year when groups all around the county award scholarships. Bright-eyed high school seniors stroll to the podium in shirts and ties or nice dresses and profusely thank all involved.
The scene will play out again when five students step forward at the Black History Committee's gala Saturday at the Wyndham Westshore to receive awards of varying amounts and hear words of inspiration from actor Danny Glover.
But sometimes we forget just how big of an impact those dollars can make.
Fareed says the scholarship allowed her to fully emerge into the college experience instead of having to work part-time or fret over finances.
When the opportunity arose to join Pi Sigma Alpha, the political science honor society, or Phi Alpha Delta, the service organization for pre-law students, she could do so without worrying about how it might conflict with a time-consuming job.
And of course, there was the trip to New York as part of a public relations seminar that allowed the students to see the city and meet with top executives from Facebook, Univision and Comcast, just to name a few.
The award gave her the chance to learn more about her studies, her future and herself.
"Honestly, it's been amazing," said Fareed, who graduated from Riverview High in 2009. "I've always been a person who likes to be active outside of school. The scholarship allowed me to explore the full college experience and a lot of different activities."
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Now Fareed, 22, will set her sights on attending law school at Georgia State in Atlanta, and she hopes to return to Tampa, become a successful lawyer and possibly open a couple of businesses. One, she says with enthusiasm, would serve upscale soul food meals. The other would provide 24-hour day care because she knows a lot of single parents have to work at night.
Once, it was her mother, Sheila Russ, working those late nights. Fareed's father passed away when she was 7.
Today, mother and daughter celebrate her success, her future and reminisce about how she wore "Future Rattler" T-shirts as a baby. The dreams that formed so long ago became a reality because one group decided to make a difference.
If you're part of an organization that gives a scholarship, never underestimate the impact it can have. If you're not part of a group that gives a scholarship, maybe you should join one.
These students will make you feel brand new. Their successes will inspire you.
That's all I'm saying.