'Its Elementary' for SDSU Student's A.M.A.N.I. Project
Natalie King-Shaw earns scholarship, seed money for new program based on Henrietta Goodwin Scholars to help Black grade school students thrive.
San Diego State junior Natalie King-Shaw said it wasn’t uncommon for her to be the only black face in her classes while growing up in Sparks, Nev.
It wasn’t until she arrived at SDSU in fall 2019 that she experienced what it was like to be in a classroom where everyone was a person of color — in the Henrietta Goodwin Scholars program, which supports students of the African diaspora to achieve academic and social success at San Diego State University.
King-Shaw’s contrasting educational experiences were the inspiration for a program she is developing to provide academic, creative and identity support to Black kids in predominantly white schools that recently received a huge lift through the Donald A. Strauss Scholarship Foundation’s $15,000 scholarship — $7,000 in educational support and $8,000 designated as a grant for her A.M.A.N.I. project.
King-Shaw is the first SDSU student to receive the Strauss Scholarship in the first year that SDSU students were invited to apply for the 25-year-old award. The annual awards of $15,000 to 10-15 California college sophomores or juniors from pre-selected institutions finance innovative student projects in the education and preparation of future leaders.
“I am so excited, it seems surreal,” King-Shaw said. “I’m so grateful to the Strauss Foundation for their endorsement of this project that is very important to me.”
SDSU officials shared King-Shaw’s excitement about the announcement.
Kari Hooker, assistant director in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships, helped King-Shaw with her scholarship application and said it was impressive from the start.
“Over the past several months, she developed an awe-inspiring program,” said Hooker. “It was a sincere pleasure for me to work with Natalie and watch her project grow from its earliest stages to submission. … I'm so proud of her accomplishments.”
King-Shaw said the A.M.A.N.I. Project will start in the 2022-23 school year, and in the first year she hopes to pair 20 San Diego elementary school students with 20 SDSU student mentors on three elementary school campuses.
The program will take place after school once a week for two hours, with the first hour featuring group activities with mentors and students revolving around topics such as Black history, racial identity development and community building. The second hour will be one-to-one sessions between pupils and mentors.
King-Shaw said the scholarship funds will provide a creative and academic interest fund from which a student will be able to choose what they do with their mentor. King-Shaw said they will be recruiting mentors over the spring and summer.
She describes it as a “Henrietta Goodwin Scholars for kids.”
“I see it as an early intervention program, similar to the way HGS has provided support on the college end,” King-Shaw said.
Community service and volunteerism are not new to King-Shaw, a psychology major who wants to be a speech pathologist. Since arriving at SDSU, she has amassed an impressive resume of service-related activities and causes, including feeding the homeless, volunteering with children and adults with differing abilities and advocating for natural hairstyles, among others.
But the genesis of the A.M.A.N.I. (Affirming, Mentoring, Actualizing, Nurturing, and Imagining) Project was near to her heart. Growing up in Northern Nevada, she said, she was often the only black student in her classes and she went to predominantly white schools her entire life.
Then, there was an incident during the summer when she returned to Sparks between SDSU classes that set her mind in motion.
She and her sister volunteer each summer at a camp for kindergartners through eighth-graders, and in 2021, a 5-year-old there used a racial slur to describe another student, she said.
“That really affected me and made me realize at how young of an age racism gets reproduced, and how do we have an earlier intervention to stop it,” King-Shaw said.
With that experience fresh in her consciousness and word that the Strauss Scholarship was available to SDSU students, King-Shaw began to develop the concept of her program.
“Over quarantine, I had the time to think about my experiences and started to brainstorm and work with Kari Hooker, and when I came back to campus in early November, I met with Ahliyah Chambers at the Black Resource Center. She was such a great support helping me talk through things and made me think deeper and fill everything in,” King-Shaw said.
Through those meetings and discussions with Chambers and Hooker, King-Shaw developed the following mission and vision statement for the project:
“Based on the five key tenets of Affirming, Mentoring, Actualizing, Nurturing, and Imagining a limitless future for young Black scholars, the A.M.A.N.I. Project will provide racial identity development and academic and creative support through mentorship to Black students attending predominantly white elementary schools (PWES) in San Diego. Through intentional community support, young Black scholars will explore and grow in a creative and academic area of interest and build emotional skills while sharing their experiences. By participating in this program, A.M.A.N.I. Project scholars and mentors will build Amani (Swahili for peace and tranquility) in their multidimensional identities as Black students.”
Chambers, who works alongside King-Shaw at the Black Resource Center, said she is excited to see the A.M.A.N.I. Project took off under King-Shaw, whom she praised as “thoughtful, diligent and compassionate.”
"The Black Resource Center is so proud of Natalie King-Shaw for her innovative nature as she is continuously finding new ways to create a safe and collaborative space that supports the overall development and success of marginalized students at all levels,” Chambers said.
“Natalie is a thoughtful, diligent, and compassionate student-leader that San Diego State University has supported so many students here at the Black Resource Center. As a Strauss Foundation Scholar, I have no doubt that the A.M.A.N.I. Project will expand the magnitude of Ms. King-Shaw's impact on the San Diego community-at-large.”