When asked to choose one word to describe herself, 19-year-old Ashley George chose the word, "beautiful."
It wasn't that she was trying to be egotistical, instead the word helped to describe her inner and outer journey of becoming comfortable within her own skin.
"As a black female in our society, I am supposed to feel and be normal, but I have learned to express and possess beauty in my own way," George said during an on-campus interview at Winston-Salem State University.
It was her strong convictions that landed the Alabama native a $5,000 scholarship from Food Lion and Coke in its 2015 CIAA Essay Contest. She first learned about the contest a year ago in an email from Winston-Salem State University's career development office.
"I was lying on my bed and read where the maximum was 500 words for the essay. I thought to myself, 'I am good at writing papers so why not enter,'" George said.
After convincing her roommate to enter as well, Ashley outlined her thoughts down on a piece and paper and then started writing. It only took her about 30 minutes to develop the essay, but she wanted feedback to make it a stronger entry.
"I just wanted to make sure it was perfect," she said.
Ashley took it to the on-campus writing center and then had her mom, who is a tutor, to read it as well. Apparently, the extra proofreading helped. She was notified by another email weeks later that she was one of four grand prize winners receiving $5,000, a trip to the CIAA tournament and $500 spending cash.
"When I got the phone call in my dorm room telling me that I won I was so excited. It was then that I realized that I do have a voice and that my writing can substitute for my speaking when I can't express myself fully," George said.
While other students used their scholarship for tuition and books, George used hers to buy a 2007 PT Cruiser she named, Bertha. In addition to using the car for her own transportation, she uses it to help other students she mentors who have off campus errands.
She serves as one of the university's peer mentor to 10 other students through WSSU's Building Outstanding Student Success (B.O.S.S.) program.
"I just want to thank Food Lion for investing in me with this scholarship," she said. "Now it's my responsibility to invest in others. I am so grateful for this opportunity."
The sophomore who is majoring in social work and Justice Studies is hoping to use her degree to one day open her own business to help counsel other teenagers.
The following is Ashley's winning essay. Please note that the views and opinions in this essay may not reflect the views of Food Lion.
Ashley George Essay
As we go forth from Old State U.,
A song of love we sing to thee
And praises to thy memory
Of days at State University.
Thy sons and daughters bring thee fame.
Through knowledge which we here have gained
Exultingly we praise thy name,
Oh Winston-Salem State University
As we go forth from Old State U.,
Good leaders we will always be
And stand for all humanity
As you have taught us State University
In all we do we shall proclaim
To all the world the enduring fame
As we go forth we praise thy name
Oh Winston-Salem State University
(Winston Salem State Alma Mater)
As I take a single breath, each word flows out of my mouth like sweet molasses from sugar cane. As I pause between each word, and each syllable, it is a constant reminder to me that, My Black Is Beautiful. To understand my ideology of why my black is beautiful, a simple breakdown of each word has to be separately analyzed.
The word My is significant for individuality, which describes my blackness. It is what makes me who I am. Black is just a simple categorization of color in which, our politically corrupted society has named African Americans. It goes beyond those categorizations of stereotypical notions of multicolored crayons. Blackness is not the measure of an individual and it does not define who we are. All that matters is embracing your individuality, and embracing all of the stereotypical categorizations, racism, and prejudices that our Land of the Free, Home of the Brave society has established itself.
Is stands for the questions that have been racing through my head since I was a little girl just trying to fit into this European centric world. Is our world going to change and not destroy my innocent eyes? Is being pale white with rosy cheeks and long hair, beautiful? Is my beauty skin deep? Beautiful stands for what is satisfying and pleasing to oneself. To embrace your beauty, you have to be around people who embrace their own individual beauty.
Going to a predominantly white school all my life, my parents were quite surprised to discover that my heart was at Winston-Salem State University. My decision to go to Winston-Salem State University was based solely on a new experience. To my surprise, Winston-Salem State University was above and beyond anything I have ever imagined. It is a CIAA University, which makes it even better. No one is staring at me and no one is singling me out due to my color. We are not defined by our color, but by our knowledge. I am just me. No discrimination but equal opportunities at WSSU.
Winston-Salem State University's Alma Mater is titled, As We Go Forth, meaning personally, that I am going forth with embracing my individuality, embracing my blackness, conquering and answering those questions, and realizing my beauty. Winston-Salem State University helped me to overcome the adversities transitioning to an HBCU and helped me realize that I am not a statistic. Furthermore, I will not give into a low self-esteem by changing my color of skin as some do because of shame. Those statistics will never be, or define me. Winston-Salem State University changed my perspective of myself and my world. Winston-Salem State helped me to appreciate even more of my history and culture. It built itself upon a one-room frame structure of only one teacher and 25 pupils on September 28, 1892.
The current organizations, academic clubs, professors, and all other programs are there to help me as a student be successful in everything I want to achieve which is magnificent. We are encouraged to Enter to Learn, Depart to Serve (WSSU motto). I would recommend every person that wants the best college experience, the best academic experience, and especially people who want to find themselves motivated positively to come to Winston-Salem State University. Winston-Salem State has helped define my perspective of beauty. As the idiom goes, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and my beauty was found at Winston-Salem State University. Going to this college helped me realize that I am beautiful. My Black Is Beautiful.
For further information: Benny L. Smith, APR: 704-310-4077; email@example.com