Ossie Davis would have turned 100 years old on December 18, 2017 and to honor what would have been his 100th year of life, his children have partnered with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) for the $10,000 Ossie Davis Legacy Award Scholarship.

Via UNCF, the Ossie Davis Scholarship Program has doled out $50,000 worth of education to scholarship winners since its inception in 2007. This special Ossie Davis Legacy Award Scholarship was created specifically to award the Ossie Davis Centennial Scholar and acknowledge this landmark year

Davis and his wife Ruby Dee were creatives and activists. That is a very important aspect of their lives that their children Guy Davis, Dr. Hasna Muhammad, and Nora Davis Day wanted to make sure to honor with this scholarship. Additionally, Davis’ rich baritone was used for years to deliver UNCF’s famous “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” motto.

“They sat us down and talked to us about their work,” said Dr. Muhammad in an exclusive interview with theGrio.com. “They talked about the importance of the work they were doing and the importance of having African Americans behind the scenes as directors, writers, and producers. And it wasn’t just about he lack of employment for Black people in film and theater, it was about the world at large.”
Even though their children were young, Davis and Dee made sure to explain to them why Emmett Till’s mother demanded that his coffin stay open, why they would boycott Christmas certain years or why they did not patronize certain retailers.

“They taught by example. When people approached them, they always replied with grace. They taught us to love our people,” noted Day.

Continuing the Legacy

“We understand the challenges of education, which is part of the reason why we are including both undergraduate and graduate students. One person will be the Centennial Scholar.That person will need to demonstrate his or her commitment. The $10,000 award signifies the $10 our grandmother pinned to Daddy’s underwear as he walked  from his hometown in Georgia to Washington DC to begin his studies at Howard University,” said Dr. Muhammad.

“We are going through tumultuous times. We know that they would be right in the middle of the cry for justice if they were here today. They would be involved in opportunities for young people to learn,” she continued. “We know these young people out there doing the work. There’s somebody preparing to take the lead in government and with the people. We want to help someone who might not otherwise have the chance to make a larger impact.”

Combing art and activism was a priority for Davis and it is something he gravitated to early on in life while he was a student at Howard. “Dad stopped at the Lincoln Memorial because he heard Marian Anderson singing. He basically just stumbled upon the concert by following her voice. This was the concert she gave because Constitution Hall would not allow a Black performer there. Dad always said that was a call for him to always marry art and activism,” shared Day. That happened in 1939. 

The Davis/Dee children are hopeful about the current generation of activists and creators. “There are so many people doing great work. Alicia Keys, Colin Kaepernick, Jesse Williams, Hill Harper, the whole #MeToo movement, Common, Yahari Shahidi and so many others are really stepping up,” said Day.  ” They are modeling what mom and dad advocated and continuing that tradition. There are also the people who remain nameless at the community level who work tirelessly in big and small ways. We hear them. We see them. Dad was a thinker who took the time to put things in context. That’s what I admire about this new wave of activists.”

The Criteria

Though Dr.Muhammad takes the lead on this scholarship, it is truly a family affair that involves all three of the Davis/Dee children. They all play a role with selecting the winner. In previous years when they were choosing from rising high school seniors, they ended up not selecting anyone because none of the applicants fit the bill. That is an indication of the high standards required to earn the Ossie Davis Legacy Award Scholarship.

Each year, the scholarship committee selects which HBCUs the scholarship applicants must apply from to be considered. Howard is on the list in perpetuity.

This year’s list of HBCUs are:

  • Benedict College
  • Bethune-Cookman University
  • Claflin University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Florida Memorial University
  • Howard University
  • Lane College
  • Miles College
  • Morehouse College
  • Spelman College
  • Virginia Union University
  • Xavier University of Louisiana

According to the UNCF website, eligible students must also:

  • Be a U.S. citizen, U.S. national or permanent resident
  • maintain a 3.0 or better on 4 scale GPA
  • major in African American Studies, Communications, Education, Fine Arts, Humanities, Performing Arts, Political Science, Social Sciences, Theater Arts/Drama or Visual Arts

On top of that, applicants must also submit an essay connecting the work of Ossie Davis to today’s activism and provide a letter of recommendation from a dean or professor. Those selected to the semi-final round must submit a portfolio and other materials.

The deadline is November 9, 2018 at 12 am EST. Visit the the UNCF website for more details and the application. Head to the official Ossie and Ruby website to learn more about the life and legacy of those two arts and activism legends.