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"Resilient" Bezos Scholars to Participate in Digital Festival

Taking inspiration from the Aspen Ideas Festival, scholars from around the globe will design and lead projects to foster change in their communities.

  • June 18th 2021

A group of exceptional high school students and educators from across the US and the African Leadership Academy will participate in this year's virtual Aspen Ideas Festival. This year's cohort of scholars — who are part of the Bezos Scholars Program — has shown incredible resilience throughout the pandemic in a challenging school environment.

The cohort's 13 teams, made up of rising high school seniors and educators from across the US and Africa, will design and lead projects to foster change in their communities. 

As in previous years, the applicant pool was extremely competitive. US applicants attend a public school with a free and reduced lunch rate of 30 percent or higher to increase equity of opportunity. African applicants attend the African Leadership Academy, which has been in partnership with the program since 2011. Scholars are selected based on their commitment to education, demonstrated leadership abilities, willingness to embrace challenges, and desire to create positive change in their communities. 

The Bezos Family Foundation launched the Scholars program in 2005 to provide young people with a platform to design solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing their local areas. The program usually begins with an all-expenses paid trip to the Aspen Ideas Festival, where students engage in leadership training, panel discussions, and exclusive conversations with many of the world's most acclaimed scientists, journalists, artists and global leaders. This experience sets the stage for the challenge ahead: launching sustainable projects, known as Local Ideas Festivals (LIFs), to transform their communities.  

“This year’s impressive group of Scholars represents eight states across the US and five African countries,” said Molly Pencke, Bezos Scholars Program Manager at the Bezos Family Foundation. “We are honored to work and learn alongside these changemakers.” 

For their participation in the program, Scholars receive more than 40 hours of leadership curriculum, access to Scholar-only notable speaker sessions with inspirational leaders, $1,000 in seed funding to launch their community change projects which they can reapply for, free one-on-one college advising, free online tutoring services, and upon program completion, access to opportunities offered through the Scholar Alumni Network.  

The topics and themes of LIFs are as diverse as the Scholars themselves and designed to align Scholars’ passions with an existing community need. Many address inequities in education, advocating for the rights of underrepresented communities and the need to create space for civil discourse. Since the program’s inception, over 50,000 attendees have participated in these change projects. 

Please visit the Meet the Scholars page to see full Scholar biographies and photos. The Bezos Family Foundation is honored to welcome the following 2021 Scholars: 

Student Scholar Ammi Lucy Hernandez and Educator Carla Felix
Cutler Bay Senior High School
Miami, FL 

Student Scholar Avery McCoy Ell and Educator Natalie Davis
Old Town High School
Old Town, ME 

Student Scholar Bella Garcia and Educator Mayra Valle 
Westchester Academy for International Studies in partnership with EMERGE Fellowship 
Houston, TX 

Student Scholar Bubuney Havi and Educator Maureen Loflin 
Bayside High School and Health Sciences Academy  
Virginia Beach, VA 

Student Scholar Flavia Nunez and Educator Michele Mar 
School for Advanced Studies- North Campus 
Miami, FL 

Student Scholar Gabriel Gerig and Educator Francisco Javier Lopez Ortiz 
Inlet Grove Community High School 
West Palm Beach, FL 

Student Scholar Isabel Ohakamma and Educator John Glenn Santos Ramon, PhD 
Hightower High School 
Stafford, TX 

Student Scholar Isoiza Emah and Educator Tony Mensah 
Montgomery Blair High School 
Silver Spring, MD 

Student Scholar Josephine Fields and Educator Kristi Billings 
Brown County High School 
Nashville, IN 

Student Scholar Owen Lee and Educator Nick Wellington 
Edmonds-Woodway High School 
Edmonds, WA 

Student Scholar Runzhi Hu and Educator Susan Potts 
Rancho High School 
Las Vegas, NV 

Student Scholar Sawyer Husain and Educator Tom Gayda 
North Central High School 
Indianapolis, IN 

Student Scholars Jaelene Sharveshni Iyman, Selima Terras, Suyash Nowbut, Saifeddine Lahmar, Panashe Noel Jonga and Educator Ssanyu Sematimba  
African Leadership Academy  
Johannesburg, South Africa representing the following home countries: South Africa, Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Mauritious, and Uganda

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