The Papitto Opportunity Connection’s new annual Transform Rhode Island scholarship asks students of color in the state a singular question: “If you were given $1,000,000 to better the lives of Rhode Island’s BIPOC communities either through education, job skills training, business, housing or healthcare, how would you do so?”
The inquiry is not just rhetorical — the foundation will invest $1 million into realizing the idea of the first place winner. The Papitto Opportunity Connection is a non-profit private foundation that works to empower individuals in BIPOC communities in Rhode Island.
The scholarship is open to all Rhode Island students of color, grades nine through 12. Applicants can answer the question through either a written essay, a video essay or a comparable multimedia presentation. The Papitto Opportunity Connection will be accepting applications from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2022. Winners will be announced at a ceremony on March 15, 2022.
The top three finalists will also receive one-time scholarships covering post-secondary education-related expenses such as tuition, housing and health care. The first place finisher will receive $25,000, second place will receive $15,000 and third place will receive $10,000.
Papitto Opportunity Connection Managing Trustee John Tarantino and Rhode Island Department of Education Commissioner Angélica Infante-Green announced the initiative at a WaterFire ceremony dedicated to people of color on Oct. 16.
“The proposal here is to really tap into the creativity, the motivation and the interest of young people, BIPOC high school students in our state and to have them really play a significant role in helping us to improve and ultimately transform BIPOC communities,” Tarantino told The Herald. He emphasized that the implementation of the winning student’s proposal made the opportunity unique and unlike any other comparable scholarship he was aware of, in the state or across the country.
“Something that we’ve observed during the pandemic and over the past few years is that young people are engaged, and they have something to say and they’re more vocal than ever before. And that’s important, because we want to hear from them,” said Ting Barnard, Papitto Opportunity Connection advisor and leadership team member.
According to Victor Morente, director of communications for RIDE, the scholarship will help increase higher education opportunities for students of color in the state. “We know that one of the major barriers to college enrollment for students of color is cost, not only in tuition but in books, lodging and food,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.
“On top of that, students of color are disproportionately likely to be working to contribute to their family’s income or to be spending time providing child or elder care for family members, making it even harder for those students to earn money for college through work,” he added. “The Transform Rhode Island scholarship will help to cover both tuition and peripheral costs for these students.”
RIDE has worked with the foundation on earlier projects, such as the Woonsocket Education Center. They are not involved with running the scholarship, but are helping to raise awareness about it, Morente wrote. RIDE will do this through social media postings and its weekly field memo, once applications open.
Barnard said that the scholarship demonstrates the organization’s commitment to learning from the communities it aims to serve. “Our motto is: ‘here to listen, here to help.’ And so this scholarship is a continuation of wanting to listen and wanting to hear, but from young people,” she said. “I really feel like in a small state like Rhode Island, you can really make a huge impact with a million dollars.”
Tarantino said that the Papitto Opportunity Connection developed the idea for the scholarship after listening to young people across various communities of color in the state. While the foundation has funded more “traditional scholarships” before, he described this opportunity as “truly different and unique.”
“We decided, let’s not just make it about tuition, which again, is good, (because) there might be different needs,” he said. “It might be a housing need, it might be a medical need, it might be a family need … that money can be used for any of those appropriate needs.”
Morente wrote that this opportunity will allow for young people to develop into leaders. “This scholarship is going to empower community-minded students who want to make a difference and allow them to develop the skills they need to do so at college.”