by molly knight raskin | April 22, 2013 | Lifestyle
President Obama congratulates Angel Brock, Jack Donaldson Memorial Scholarship winner.
A high school student at a WHCA-sponsored meeting.
Prime Movers Media Director Dorothy Gilliam (FAR LEFT) talks with (FROM LEFT) Michael Scherer of Time, Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News, and Prime Movers interns Eric Breese and Stephanie Linka.
WHCA panel discussion attended by local high school students.
High school students taking photographs at a previous WHCA panel discussion.
Every year, the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) throws one of Washington’s most-talked-about galas: the White House Correspondents’ Association annual dinner. In one blockbuster night, members of the media and political power players—including the president and first lady—gather with Hollywood glitterati to recognize excellence in the journalism profession.
But there’s much more to the association than a star-studded dinner with the White House Press Corps. “We’re not just a party,” explains Michael Scherer, White House correspondent for Time magazine and chairman of the WHCA Scholarship Committee. “We’re also a charitable organization, and we have for a long time given away substantial amounts of money to young people who want to be journalists.”
Since 1991, the WHCA has awarded nearly $600,000 to students in high school, college, and graduate school. The program has grown annually thanks to the generosity of corporations, individual donors, and the funds raised during the dinner. In fact, this year the association will hand out 22 scholarships totaling $133,000—its highest amount, reveals Julia Whiston, WHCA executive director. The scholarship winners will be announced the night of the event, April 27.
Scherer says the scholarship program’s largesse is critical to the education of more journalists—including minorities, who are underrepresented in the nation’s newsrooms, and students who would otherwise be unable to afford college. “This helps [students] not only in the short term, but also ensures they are not saddled with debt,” he adds. “As a journalist you barely scrape by for the first few years. That’s a career choice not everyone has the opportunity to make.”
Although based in the District, the WHCA offers scholarships to local and out-of-area students attending various universities, including the University of Missouri; Howard University; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Maryland; and the graduate journalism schools of Columbia and Northwestern Universities. It has also partnered with an inspiring journalism mentorship program called Prime Movers Media, based at George Washington University, which sends GW interns and working journalists into urban high schools in Washington and Philadelphia to teach good writing, serve as advisors for student newspapers and media projects, hold panels, and talk about the impact good journalism can have—such as holding the country’s lawmakers accountable.
“It’s important because Washington remains an incredibly separated city; there’s this power structure in the middle, but most of the people born and raised here don’t have access to it,” Scherer says. “Suddenly, a kid who might have walked by the White House every day has the opportunity to walk into it. That’s tremendous.” Recently, the WHCA also supported an aspiring journalist closer to home with the Jack Donaldson Memorial Scholarship, a onetime award which granted nearly $25,000 last year to a DC-area high school student. The scholarship is named in memory of Whiston’s grandson, who passed away in September 2011 at age 12 as the result of a storm-related accident.
The scholarship winner was Angel Brock, then a senior at McKinley Technology High School. Raised by her mother in Northwest DC, Brock says that, although she was a stellar student, her college hopes were made uncertain by the reality of tuition costs. At the suggestion of her guidance counselor, she applied for the WHCA scholarship without any expectations. When she found out she’d won, the bubbly, bright teenager recalls, “It meant so much to me and my mom. I was so thankful.”
Brock, who has always loved writing and says she has all the “nosy” characteristics that make for a good reporter, is now attending Penn State, where she’s pursuing a major in broadcast journalism and a minor in international studies. “I really feel like, as a journalist, I can help other people…. I like to seek and give out information,” she explains.
Brock says last year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner is a night etched in her memory. She met President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. “Not a lot of kids from DC—or even adults—get to meet the president and hug him,” she recalls. The experience bolstered her resolve. “It’s made me feel like I’m on the right track,” she says.
Scherer says this is the kind of confidence the WHCA hopes to inspire in students: “We’re here to help these young people do what they want to do, which is to be reporters.” 600 New Hampshire Ave., Ste. 800, 202-266-7453
photography by William Atkins (obama); Jessica McConell