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Miguel Mendez Social Justice Scholarship

Funded by
3 winners, $1,000 each
Next Application Deadline
Jul 19, 2024
Next Winners Announced
Aug 19, 2024
Education Level
Recent scholarship winners
Eligibility Requirements
Education Level:
Low-income and first-generation college student
3.0 or higher
Career Path:
Social Justice

Miguel was a first generation college graduate, born and raised in Colorado. 

He was always seeking ways to reshape our world to be more equitable and accessible for all. He believed he was privileged to have such support systems that helped him achieve his goals. It was his life’s duty to ensure that the next generation has the necessary tools to achieve their goals too. Miguel passed away in an accident last July. To honor his memory, the Miguel Mendez Social Justice Scholarship will support undergraduate students pursuing a career in social justice.

Undergraduate, first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds are eligible to apply if they have a GPA of 3.0 or higher and are pursuing a career in social justice. To apply, explain in either a video or essay application how you are working to address an important issue.

Selection Criteria:
Ambition, Boldest Profile
Published April 18, 2024
Essay Topic

In an essay or video, explain how you are working to address an important social issue.

400–600 words

Winning Application

Favour Ekott
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal JusticeNew Rochelle, NY
“It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice”. I begin this essay with a quote by Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who, through his life’s work, showed the unjust juxtaposition of the realities of the oppressed and dominant class. From a young age I have been drawn to this reality because I was born in it. As a Nigerian born at the crux of a shift from military rule to a supposed civilian democratic rule, I have witnessed the decline of the masses and the continued fight against social justice in my home country. As a young girl, my parents decided that I would study Pharmacy or something in the medical field-that was the first time I truly understood that I had no say in what I would have wanted to pursue in life. This is the story of many Nigerian girls. I have chosen a career in Criminal Justice for two particular reasons. I believe proper enforcement of laws and legislations enacted and decided upon by the arms of justice enable and empower social justice among the masses. It is no news that Nigeria is unfortunately one of the most corrupt nations in the world. While there are many reasons for this proliferation of corruption, not limited to positivism, paternalism, and even illiteracy, I cannot overemphasize the continued breakdown of will of the masses. The second reason I chose this major was to give hope to myself. The young girl that has always wanted to speak up for herself and others that have been silenced by gender norms and my parent’s personal goals for my life. This is why I am certain that I am on the right track here, because in every class or discussion, moment and experience, I have learned and continue to learn that there is hope for girls like me who defy the status quo and aim to champion the banner for social and criminal justice in their given realities. In the near future, I hope to expand my work to International Law and work with organizations bent on enforcing justice in societies that have been deemed subordinate to individuals that have impressed themselves on the masses and silenced the voice(s) of the oppressed and marginalized groups, as well as run campaigns of civic education in my home country to improve the literacy of young girls.
Sofia Roca
Our Lady of the Lake UniversitySan Antonio, TX
It’s always been difficult for LGBTQIA+ folks to express their authentic selves in everyday society; safety is not always certain and the looming threat of backlash or abuse is ever present. This has made my personal story of coming out even more difficult: being outed by my Latine Catholic family left me scared and confused, and caused me to repress how I felt for years. Only in recent years have I felt more comfortable living with a queer identity thanks to the homophobia and transphobia-free community I have built around me. I only felt this queer joy after suffering so much, however, and it shatters me to see the same cycle repeat with other queer kids. I wish to see the LGBTQIA+ community in my environment and everywhere else experience this same joy and safety with us: I hope to see queer kids wear makeup and proudly pin different pride flag designs on their backpacks without the threat of harm from family or their unaccepting community, I want to watch drag performances in open environments without the fear of being observed and reported to a hateful following. I want myself and my community to be able to bind, fix our hair differently, or even wear different clothing items without the immediate comments from our families with roots built on homophobia and transphobia. With each passing week, however, it seems that my hopes of a happier future for LGBTQIA+ members fade farther away. More anti-queer legislation continues to get passed, laws and regulations that will cause more hateful environments to grow and beat down on queer folx, leaving us vulnerable and miserable without aid. I’m sick of seeing my community continue taking the abuse, and I’ve been sick of it for years. And when people get sick of the abusive cycle of hatred, they work together and uplift each other to make a change: since 2017, I have found a community I could rely on and have been driven to address and make a difference in how the LGBTQIA+ community is viewed and treated. Educating myself and others, creating a safe space for other queer folx, and working in a profession where I can further advocate and support my community are goals I have set for myself to direct attention to the social issue of homophobia/transphobia. Since high school, I have dedicated myself to staying up-to-date on current events and news that relate to LGBTQIA+ matters on both sides of the spectrum: from Greg Abbott, Governor of Texas, banning all-age drag performances to the country of Nepal legalizing same-sex marriage, staying recent in queer news has been my top priority for years. This education translates to power, which I utilize to advocate for our rights and protections on my social media platforms. Sharing news articles and openly speaking about current news are all ways I can advocate for those around me. When I’m hosting events or with others in public, I focus on making sure that I can create a safe space for other queer folx, which encourages others to feel more secure in an unknown space. Finally, I am applying for positions where I can further discuss queer issues and how to address them, as well as feel fulfilled. I don't want the LGBTQIA+ community to just be tolerated from a distance, or accepted "as long as it's not in others’ faces," queer folx deserve to feel comfortable in their skin regardless of location or people surrounding them at any age, sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, or any other background. We’re human, too.
Elaina Rankin
Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MI
Growing up I never fully grasped how money impacted my life, but I knew we didn’t have much of it. No one in my family, including my parents, had graduated high school; let alone received a college degree. Although they tried their best to provide, it was hard growing up poor. Until I was around seven, I shared a 10’ by 10’ room with both my brother and sister. Every aspect of our lives when I was young revolved around finances and how to survive. It doesn’t surprise me that many people in similar situations resort to crime purely out of desperation. Early on I was passionate about working as a Criminal defense attorney, but I could never pinpoint why. As I progressed further into my educational journey, I discovered more about what drew me to the field. Although my parents never had any felonies or major stints in prison, I understood pretty quickly that we couldn’t afford to have issues like that. Lawyers cost an arm and a leg and with the financial possibility of one of my parents not being present, my paycheck-to-paycheck household would be unable to function. Seeing how my family could be one misstep away from destruction, I soon realized some of the ways the criminal justice system fails its citizens. In my freshmen year of high school, we had the choice of picking between two essay topics or researching and writing our own. With my headstrong nature, I choose to pick my own. I began researching prison reform and was very surprised at what I was finding. Most people don’t grow up being taught about for-profit prisons, incredibly high recidivism rates, and just how downright destructive incarceration is. This single essay began to widen my thoughts on why the criminal justice system operates, and just how wrong I felt all of this was. From that day forward, I was committed to being an advocate for incarcerated individuals. From day one my goal has been to be a criminal defense attorney, but this goal has shifted slightly over the years. With my background of being low-income, a passion of mine has been aimed at assisting those in similar circumstances as well as being able to educate disadvantaged groups on the legal system. This opened up the possibility of working as a public defender or doing pro-bono work with an organization dedicated to reforming the prison system. I believe my greatest strengths are my empathy and compassion, and ensuring that everyone has access to a fair trial and representation, regardless of their background or circumstances is something that motivates me to continue pursuing a career in law in pursuit of social justice and reform. I know from experience how difficult it can be to stay afloat while being low-income, and legal troubles can certainly throw people in over their heads. The ability to in the future help those with legal issues who deal with similar financial situations I was in throughout my childhood brings me so much joy and purpose. Although this goal will take many years ahead, I am more than committed to providing affordable and free legal services to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it in a system that is far from equitable.
Jesus Galvan
Rice UniversityBeaumont, TX
My parents shielded me well from the ugliness of inequity. At home, I remember celebrating Christmas and unwrapping presents with the biggest smile on my face. At school, I remember attending the field trips my parents allowed me to go on. What I did not see was the struggle behind my happiness. I was a jubilant kid who was unaware that my family’s income and ethnicity dictated what opportunities I had, what resources were given to me, and what my future should look like. I only came to this realization when I began applying to colleges and scholarships. I did not know how to fill out the FAFSA, and I quickly realized that I was an outlier in the system of education: I was a low-income student, a child of immigrants navigating between my identities as American and non-American. Unbeknownst to me, that realization was my first exposure to educational inequity. I tried not to blame myself for discovering the concept of inequity late. I attended a largely poor Black and Latino school district after all - how was I supposed to figure out that students outside of my school had different experiences? This is where my life mission began to formulate - one where I now seek constant justice and change in the education system. This is not an easy issue to fix; the United States was built from the bodies, pain, and spirits of minority communities. The past is one of horror, but the future can be one of prosperity, payment, and justice. Black and Latino students consistently attend schools with the least amount of funding, resources, and hope; as a victim of this system, I simply cannot stand and watch it continue to bring down generations of my community. Individuals who share the same grievances as me may become teachers themselves to have an impact on students. For me, I want to go one step further and insert myself into the policy world of education. Teachers are amazing, but they still have to overcome a multitude of school-wide issues and blockades that they often cannot change or dictate themselves. I hope to alleviate some issues and create more equitable schooling by conducting research and informing policy for local, state, and federal entities. Education is the crux to success, but the current system is broken and leaves children behind. From the school-to-prison pipeline to modern-day segregation and low funding, we cannot, as a nation, stand still and merely bear witness to the destruction of the poor, the minority, and the American child that is left struggling by their school. To be complicit is to accept the underlying mechanisms of classism, racism, sexism, and ableism that built the nation and attempt to dismantle the minority stronghold. I refuse to be complicit and vow to not only receive further education but afterward, directly seek out a career where I can make a direct change to communities that have been plagued by the sins of the nation. As a child of immigrants, a Mexican-American, a first-generation college student, a low-income student, and an LGBTQ+ identifying student, I will commit my life to social justice.


When is the scholarship application deadline?

The application deadline is Jul 19, 2024. Winners will be announced on Aug 19, 2024.