Obama White House Alumni Uplift Students with ‘Black Girl 44’ Scholarship 
Photo of Deesha Dyer by Nikki Kahn

Just as 44th President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama have remained publicly engaged following eight historic years in the White House, so too have many staffers in the administration. 

Among the record numbers of Black women who utilized their talents in service to the nation was Deesha Dyer. The Philadelphia native began her White House tenure as a 31-year-old intern attending community college who rose through the ranks to become social secretary. She coordinated the 2015 visit from Pope Francis, State Dinners with world leaders from China, Italy, Singapore and Canada, and booked iconic celebrities such as Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé and the cast of “Hamilton” to perform at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 

“The Black alumni of the White House and political appointees keep in touch and we’re still working to make an impact,” said Dyer, a 2019 Harvard Kennedy School fellow, and a sought-after speaker who now heads a social impact firm. “The goal is to help others get in the political pipeline.”

Back in 2019, she founded Black Girl 44, a scholarship fund designed to assist collegiate women who’ve secured unpaid internships in politics and public service, but need assistance with expenses. “I reached out to all the Black women and asked each to chip in a minimum of $50. We pooled our money and were able to provide six scholarships that first year.” 

The private, independent scholarship has since expanded from 55 inaugural donors to more than 100 Black women, most of them former staffers in the Obama White House and administration.

“Last year showed us clearly that Black women bear the brunt of the pandemic, yet remain at the forefront of movement and change,” Dyer told ESSENCE. “More than ever we need more Black women to run for office, start social justice movements, join campaigns. And with this scholarship, we can help alleviate any financial hurdles they experience along the way.”

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Thanks to the generosity of alums, including Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, the 2021 scholarship will award 10 Black women a $1,000 scholarship this summer.

Scholarship winners will receive their awards via a virtual presentation, and they will take part in a remote orientation in June, in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. The students will participate in mentoring sessions, exclusive workshops, receive an Internship Survival Kit highlighting Black-owned businesses and more. 

The scholarship opened this month (March 25) and closes May 1. Click here for more information or to apply. 

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