Ivoryana Neal (center), a scholarship recipient, speaks from the podium in Broadview. (Provided)

Ivoryana Neal, 18, knows a thing or two about persistence. As a Black student attending Proviso Math and Science Academy, which is predominantly Hispanic, Neal said she wasn’t easily welcomed into the social fabric of her high school. 

“Attending PMSA was definitely an experience,” she said. “It was hard. When I looked around, there weren’t many students and teachers who looked like me. I felt like I was in competition all the time.”  

Neal, however, decided to get engaged, anyway. Part of her mission as the president of her graduating class was to confront the high school’s “cliques” and try to unite the senior body. 

That skill at mending factions and persuading others may serve Neal well in the future. The Bellwood resident, who just enrolled at Spelman College in Atlanta as a political science major, wants to become a public defender and ultimately a judge. 

She was one of 12 new recipients of the 209 Scholarship. The new recipients each received $1,000 to use while in college. This year, the nonprofit 209 Scholarship awarded an additional 18 renewal scholarships at $500 each. In total, they gave away $21,000 in scholarships this year. 

“This is our largest amount ever and we’ve now given away over $70,000 in scholarships,” said 209 Scholarship committee member Ken Snyder. 

Neal said she hopes to leverage the scholarship in her quest to thrive at Spelman, where she’s considering reprising Justice Troopers, the social justice organization she founded while a PMSA student.  

“I’m in the process of rebranding Justice Troopers and starting something here in Atlanta,” Neal said, adding that she may focus her efforts on addressing Atlanta’s homelessness and mental health problems. 

Cristobal Soto, a 19-year-old Maywood resident and recent Proviso East graduate, said the $1,000 scholarship helped cover the remaining costs of his books. 

Soto, 209 Scholarship’s Proviso East Pirate Pride winner, will study mechanical engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago this fall. 

“My parents raised me and my siblings to be involved in many things and to live life to the fullest,” Soto said. “My father always told me to do the hard stuff first in order to enjoy the fruits of your labor later.” 

Soto said that advice translated into his involvement as a youth delegate who has traveled to Washington, D.C., as part of Maywood Trustee Isiah Brandon’s youth delegation at the annual Congressional City Conference hosted by the National League of Cities (NLC). Soto was also a 4-year member of the Proviso East Marching Band, among other responsibilities he juggled as a high school student. 

“I’m grateful to my siblings, because they pushed me,” he said. “I’m also grateful for my family and the people in the community and at Proviso East, who helped me become a better person and to prosper.” 

You can find more information on the 209 Scholarship at 209Scholarship.com.