Black Bayview college students tell their success stories

College-success-event-panelists-122023-by-Kevin-Epps, Black Bayview college students tell their success stories, Culture Currents Featured Local News & Views
“Taking the Next Step” panelists are, from left, Kamiah Brown, Erika Morris, De John Thompson, Shavonne Hines-Foster, the moderator, Sabrina McFarland, Siyani Bell, Ke’Mora Tanksley and Amiriana Sinegal. – Photo: Kevin Epps

by Kevin Epps

“Taking the Next Step,” an event held Dec. 20 at the new Southeast Community Center in Bayview Hunters Point, featured a candid, open and honest conversation promoting higher education amongst San Francisco’s marginalized Black communities. They talked about challenges Black students face, local scholarships and funding opportunities, and just being proud of representing the community. 

Whether you are a high school senior applying to colleges, a current student looking for motivation, wanting to return to school or considering grad school, this is motivation for all. One of the recurring themes was the local support coming from 100% College Prep and its co-founder, Diane Gray. 

I believe this event is important because we should be promoting access to higher education within the Black community, especially in San Francisco, where a Black population exodus and brain drain is crippling the community. Rarely do we see coverage highlighting the success stories about the college students in our community. 

“I thought this would be a powerful event for students and families to see what is possible,” observed moderator and organizer Shavonne Hines-Foster, founder of My Voice, My Power and a student at Hampton University. Shavonne grew up helping her mother, Yvonne Hines, with her popular business, Yvonne’s Southern Sweets, on Third Street.

“Hi, everyone, thanks for coming,” she said to the crowd when she took the mic. “My name is Shavonne. I’m a third year political science major on a pre-law track from San Francisco California – Hunters Point, California, to be exact. This is our Taking the Next Steps college panel. I want to say like maybe three years ago I created my first $2,000 scholarship for high school seniors in the San Francisco area, prioritizing those from Hunters Point, Sunnydale, Fillmore – really trying to uplift students who are taking the next steps to go to college. So i’ve been giving away scholarships for the past three years. I was able to give away this past year four scholarships.” 

College-success-event-Shavonne-Hines-Foster-De-John-Thompson-122023-by-Kevin-Epps, Black Bayview college students tell their success stories, Culture Currents Featured Local News & Views
Panelists Shavonne Hines-Foster and De John Thompson – Photo: Kevin Epps

De John Thompson, or DJ, was next at the mic: “I’m currently in my third year at Louisiana State University as a computer science major and I’m from San Francisco. I was motivated to go to college from being around people who wanted to go to college. In high school, I was kind of confused about where I wanted to go. I wasn’t too confident in myself or my academic ability, so just being around people and hearing people talk about things they wanted to do inspired me, thinking about how I wanted to live a life knowing that I get a lot from, so college seemed like the perfect fit for me.” 

“Hello, everyone. My name is Erika Morris. I was born in Bayview and raised in Lakeview. I am in my third year at Fisk University. My major is financial economics. In high school I was also taught to want to always go to college. Coming from a predominantly white high school, I knew I wanted to attend a HBCU, and that really motivated me with the help of 100% College Prep as well as Omega Boys and Girls Alive and Free Club. It really was like no other option. You HAD to go to college.”

College-success-event-Erika-Morris-Kamiah-Brown-122023-by-Kevin-Epps, Black Bayview college students tell their success stories, Culture Currents Featured Local News & Views
Panelists Erika Morris and Kamiah Brown – Photo: Kevin Epps

“Hello, everyone. My name is Kamiah Brown. I’m a grad student at Columbia University in the Masters of Public Health program and I’m from San Francisco. My mom was a strong advocate of education, hands down. I couldn’t go outside unless the homework was done. My interest was health inequity – I’m a Black person, my grandmother’s a Black person – what can we do to fix it. I sought out opportunities to learn more about health equity and medical racism and that’s where I’m at at Columbia.”

It was Amiriana Sinegal’s turn: “I attend San Francisco State University. I major in Business with a concentration in Marketing. I was born in Houston and raised in San Francisco. I focused on making money – like what if the scholarships don’t come through, can I make enough money to pay this tuition. So when I applied to SF State, I calculated how much do I have saved up for myself so that if a scholarship doesn’t come through, I saved and have my own money. I’ve always been big on my self-independence.”

“I’m Sabrina McFarland and I go to Harvard University. I’m a Master’s student in education policy and analysis with a concentration in identity power and justice – from Sunnydale but raised in Bayview. My mom always pushed me to go to college. She was a childcare educator. Being at 100% College Prep really inspired me, always hearing how important education is. Mrs. Diane and Ms. Tashell were always in my ear, and having all those people around me made it so that I can be here today. And 100% was part of that village that helped to cultivate me into the person I am today. I’m from Sunnydale and live in Bayview. My family is from here.”

College-success-event-Amiriana-Sinegal-Sabrina-MacFarland-Siyani-Bell-122023-by-Kevin-Epps, Black Bayview college students tell their success stories, Culture Currents Featured Local News & Views
Panelists Amiriana Sinegal, Sabrina MacFarland and Siyani Bell – Photo: Kevin Epps

Another motivation was the power of education, and the power of black people being educated, how systemically its set up so that we can not be educated, so they can limit us and stop us from getting out true liberation, as someone who’s involved in activism and black lives matter, it was motivating to me to know knowledge was something they can never take away from you. The same resources that were poured into me can be poured into every black child. 

Siyani Bell, next in line, had this to say: “I am in my third year at Howard University. I’m an English and Political Science double major. I was born in New Orleans but I’m from San Francisco, California, Straight Outta Fillmore. My Grandmother went to Spelman. My mother also attended Dillard University before she got pregnant with me, so it also felt like something to do for my mom sacrificing her childhood for me. With my career, I wanted to be a lawyer at 10 years old. You can’t be a lawyer without a college or a law degree, so it was just expected.”

“My name is Ke’Mora Tanksley. I go to Texas Southern University in Houston. My major is Human Service and Consumer Science with a concentration in Child Development and I was born and raised in San Francisco. My main motivation was my own personal career goals. I knew that to be in education one day, I’d have to be educated myself, so that was the main motivator for me going to college.”

“I’m a dreammaker,” said Ms.Tachelle of 100% College Prep, wrapping up at the end of an inspiring program. “This is my dream – looking at the panel – this is my reality. Diane and Jackie funded an organization called 100% College Prep, Bayview Association for Youth. When the pandemic hit, they dedicated their lives to you. Please stand if your GPA is above a 3.0!” Everybody stood up, to cheers and a clapping crowd.

Kevin Epps is a Dad, award-winning filmmaker, community activist, author, executive editor of the SF Bay View “National Black Newspaper” and chairman of the board for the SF Bay View Foundation. Reach him at or on ig: kevinepps1.