Contact: Elaine Hammond, Executive Director (202) 470-5425

June 19, 2013

An actor, a cyber-security expert, a civil engineer, a communications disorders specialist, and an aspiring doula/birth attendant with a literature degree from Sarah Lawrence College are among the extraordinary recent college graduates who will be honored next week as Abramson Scholars at the Abramson Scholarship Foundation’s annual reception on Monday, June 24.

Michelle Brown, Markyetta Harrison, Kalon Hayward, Louis Ngonzo-Biyo and Miya Upshur- Williams all conquered what seemed like insurmountable obstacles to finish college.

All graduated from D.C. public or charter schools. Most are the first in their families to attend college.

Louis Ngonzo-Biyo arrived from Cameroon with his family less than nine years ago and learned English while attending Bell Multicultural High School. After changing schools twice to find the right fit, he found his way to Catholic University, where he just received a degree in Civil Engineering. Now he’s working at Whiting Turner, a contracting company with offices nationwide.

Brown, who attended McKinley Technology High School, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a major in Homeland Security and a minor in business. She will spend the summer interning at Booz Allen Hamilton. Markeytta Harrison, from Calvin Coolidge High School, majored in Communications Disorders and Sociology at the University of Virginia and will work for City Year in Los Angeles.

Hayward, who attended the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and Fordham University, is acting with the Classical Theater of Harlem and has had several major roles in New York area productions. And Miya Upshur-Williams, another Duke Ellington graduate, studied literature at Sarah Lawrence College and is now pursuing certification as a doula, or birth attendant.

The Abramson Scholarship Foundation provides financial support of up to $15,000 and intensive mentoring through four years of college. To qualify, students must demonstrate high academic achievement and a commitment to “give back” to D.C. through public service. The Foundation was established in memory of Frederick B. Abramson, the first African American lawyer to head the D.C. Bar, whose commitment to public service inspired his colleagues.

The June 24 reception will feature speeches and salutes to the Scholars and their parents, as well as to the new class of Scholars just chosen.  Dr. David Soo, Policy Advisor to the Under Secretary of the Department of Education, will serve as keynote speaker. Media representatives are welcome, please contact Elaine Hammond for more information.

The Foundation this week also announced awards to eight new Scholars, all graduates of D.C. public and charter schools, each of whom will receive up to $15,000 in financial support over four years. The new Scholars are pursuing careers in journalism, engineering, international relations, law, accounting and cardiology.

As a group, they have maintained an average GPA of 3.9 despite challenges at school and at  home, and, like the graduates, have bested many obstacles. Their families’ average annual income is $21,200. Six of the eight are the first in their families to attend college.

Monet Blakey, who will attend Bates College this fall and hopes to become a cardiologist, maintained a 3.8 GPA at Benjamin Banneker High School while helping her mother, a single parent, raise five younger siblings and working 20 hours a week as a waitress. Yue Ou, whose family immigrated to the United States just four years ago, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School with a 4.18 GPA and “gives back” by tutoring immigrants in ESL and teaching Chinese to native English speakers. She will attend the University of Maryland with a major in engineering. Others in the group aspire to careers in journalism, international relations, law and accounting.

Twelve additional scholars—four sophomores, five juniors, and three seniors—are already receiving funds as Continuing Scholars.

While the money helps enormously, the students say they value even more the personal connection and sustained attention from their Abramson Foundation mentors. The Foundation assigns each Scholar two mentors: a young recent graduate who can provide help with study habits and campus challenges as well as a seasoned professional to offer career guidance. During the year, the Foundation sends care packages and organizes workshops for networking, resume writing and other skills.

A complete list of the current, new and continuing scholars and their college and high school affiliations can be found at