Demetrius Williams was recovering from COVID-19 after the virus spread through his family in December.
The University of Miami sophomore was too worried about the health of his family to focus on the things that needed to be done before returning to school.
But soon after things improved, he received an email from the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum that his Woodson Warriors Scholarship funds for his spring semester were available.
“I completely forgot that my tuition bill was due,” he said. He said getting the news helped him snap back into focus and called it a “glimmer of hope.”
He was able to pay his tuition and return to school in January.
Williams is one of 17 college students from St. Petersburg to receive up to $5,000 per year for school expenses since the Woodson Warriors Scholarships fund was created in 2019.
Now, a fundraiser for the scholarship program runs Tuesday through March 14 with a silent auction online and a live auction online on March 14. The live event includes works by renowned local artists Mark Aeling, Jane Bunker, Steven Kenny, Duncan McClellan and Brenda McMahon.
Art is at the heart of the scholarship. Bunker, a painter based in Gulfport, had the idea for the fund a few years ago while volunteering at the museum. When museum executive director Terri Lipsey Scott’s mother — who was passionate about education — died, Bunker approached her about establishing a scholarship fund in her name.
But Scott said it was more important that the fund be named for the museum, to give it “resonance in the community.”
“Education justice is so critical,” Bunker said.
Bunker painted 20 works that she donated to the museum and worked with them to auction them off. The scholarship program was able to award more than $40,000 in its first year and $43,000 in 2020, despite last year’s auction being canceled due to the pandemic. Bunker’s works were made available online.
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The Milkey Family Foundation pledged $50,000 a year for 10 years to the fund. With that money, as well as contributions by Joe Maddon’s Respect 90 Foundation and others, this year’s awards will total more than $125,000.
Recipients are eligible to reapply for continued support every year they remain in school.
“We decided we would really commit to doing what we can to support them through all four years,” Bunker said.
Applications are being accepted through April 1 at woodsonmuseum.org.
Lauryn Latimer, 20, is another scholarship recipient. A junior studying speech language pathology at the University of South Florida, she said she considers Bunker a mentor, like an encouraging family member.
While the funds help her pay for housing, a meal plan and books, Latimer said that being a Woodson Warrior also created a social circle between the scholars, who check up on each other.
“We’re like a family,” she said. “You have the friend you can vent to about school. We’re all walking down the same path.”
This year, Bunker donated 19 additional paintings that are available for purchase through the silent auction online at https://woodsonwarriors.home.qtego.net/. Other items include season subscriptions for the Florida Orchestra, two American Stage tickets and a stay at Alden Suites on St. Pete Beach.
At 5 p.m. on March 14, the live auction includes the five “major” works donated by the artists and features auctioneer Jason Alpert, artist performances and video testimonials from the scholars.
“We have so many people who want to help and be supportive,” Bunker said.
All works are on display at the Woodson Museum. They can be viewed on private tours led by Bunker through March 12 by appointment, on weekdays from 1-5 p.m. Make an appointment at https://bit.ly/3uJpchN.
Correction: This story was updated to correct the deadline date for Woodson Warriors scholarships, which is April 1.