Brandon Zylstra Sparks $12,000 Crowdfunded Scholarship for Black Students

86 contributing donors join NFL Wide Receiver to award $6,000 each to Zaniya Taylor and Emmalina Simonis

September 22, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO (September 22, 2021) – NFL Wide Receiver for the Panthers, Brandon Zylstra, announces two winners of The Road Less Traveled Scholarship. The scholarship winners include Zaniya Taylor from Denver, Colorado and Emmalina Simonis from Orlando, Florida. Each winner will receive $6,000 toward their education.

In the summer of 2019, Zylstra saw his home state of Minnesota become the epicenter of George Floyd’s heartbreaking death. The traumatic event moved the whole nation, and for Brandon, it was a wake-up call of the extreme inequality that remains in the US. After Floyd’s death, Brandon decided to use his platform and voice to make an impact in any way that he could. He asked his community and network to join him in creating The Road Less Traveled Scholarship for ambitious Black students who have overcome extreme adversity.

What started as a $500 scholarship grew to a noteworthy $12,000, with Zylstra's fundraising efforts quickly turning the scholarship into the award with the most independent contributions on Brandon's passion for making education accessible for others resonated with many donors. The crowdfunded scholarship gained traction immediately, with 86 donors joining him. While the dollars raised a life-changing amount for both winners, the call-to-action also raised awareness of the persisting inequality of opportunity among the Black community. Lack of access to education is particularly damaging, as education is one of the most powerful avenues to opportunity. In fact, for Black students, the national college retention rate is only 52.1%, compared to the national college retention rate of 76.0% in the US, leading to fewer career opportunities.

Both scholarship winners, Emmalina Simonis and Zaniya Taylor, wrote about the difficulties they faced and witnessed as children in their application essays. They wrote how their personal experiences and circumstances have impacted their long-term goals and aspirations. Zaniya, who is from Denver, CO wrote about witnessing injustice while growing up. Because of her experiences, she hopes to start a nonprofit organization to tackle world issues. Emmalina from Orlando, FL wrote about her goal of starting a marketing firm to promote minority-owned businesses and then using her profits to help rebuild her birth country, Haiti.

Brandon Zylstra says, “I am so happy with how this scholarship turned out. We had thousands of students share such a variety of passions and some incredible stories of things they’ve overcome. Reading all of these essays has me hopeful for the future. The students have big dreams to change many peoples’ lives!”

The two recipients of the Brandon Zylstra scholarship include:

Zaniya Taylor from Denver, CO says, “I am beyond blessed and grateful towards Mr. Zylstra, as well as Bold, to receive this scholarship. Ever since I was little, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world no matter what I did. Now, with this scholarship, I feel like that goal is truly being acknowledged. One day, when I’m starting up my organization and traveling the world to help people, I’ll look back and remember this as the first major step towards making my dream a reality. I pray that this is the first in a long line of miracles that will help me change the world.”
Emmalina Simonis from Orlando, FL says, "Winning the Brandon Zylstra Road Less Traveled Scholarship means everything to me. It means getting the opportunity to attend university with less financial anxiety. Much like Brandon Zylstra, I hope to one day be in the position to help those in need."

Brandon joins a long line of athletes and public figures who make a point of supporting education, including other scholarship sponsors such as NBA stars Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, and Dwyane Wade, professional tennis player Sloane Stephens, producer and DJ 3LAU, NFL Wide Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace, Grammy-winning band Imagine Dragons, professional MMA fighter Cat Zingano, actress and entrepreneur Jameela Jamil and actor, Terry Crews.