In 2016, Dr. Rebakkah ("Bekkah") Johnson dedicated her 24th birthday to create a scholarship at her Alma mater, Clayton High School, specifically for senior student members of the Black Student Union admitted into college for the incoming fall semester of 2016-17.
At the time of founding her scholarship, Dr. Johnson was months away from graduating from St. Louis College of Pharmacy. One day, while reflecting on how in the world she survived the six-year journey to earning her Doctor of Pharmacy degree post graduating from Clayton High, she went all the way back to her very first days at the college. Simply recalling her times of highs and (many) lows, as well as the obstacles she had no choice but to overcome, brought about the BooksFromBekkah Textbook Scholarship Foundation.
It went back to day number one of her freshman year. She particularly remembered being dumbfounded by the steep prices of required textbooks for her college courses. Too guilty to ask for $300 to be handed to her (with no intent of being paid back), her first month of college was spent tirelessly working at a minimum-wage job on top of her 27 credit-hour semester in order to be able to pay for required textbooks alone. At critical study times for quizzes and exams, she was working, ironically, to be studying. During this period of not having her textbooks, she shared books with her roommate (AKA used the book when her roommate was completely done using it—which, more times than not, were just 1 day before an exam).
Dr. Johnson has always personally felt that those essential first days of college spent working instead of studying, negatively impacted her transition from high school to college. Her grades were extremely severed by the times she spent working instead of studying—so much so, that during a required mid-term academic advisory meeting in her fall semester, she was told the pharmacy career path was not hers-and that now would be the most advantageous time to drop out. She consulted with white classmates whom she personally knew held similarly poor grades (some, for the same affordability reasons), and was told they were not told to drop out of school. Her white colleagues, instead, were encouraged to continue their fight—through recommendations of acquiring tutors and quitting their jobs to join work-study opportunities at school.
For those reasons, that's where the BooksFromBekkah scholarship comes in. It harnesses both her racial and scholastic hardships: it is specifically geared towards a member of the Black Student Union, with at least a 3.0 GPA, and a college acceptance letter/proof of enrollment into a college for the upcoming school year.
To help reach her birthday wish of founding a scholarship in her name, all she requested was $2.40 in honor of her 24th birthday, for a $240 grand total goal—due by her birthday, on April 13th. Donation encouragement was successful by merely telling donors that instead of putting $2.40 towards something on the value menu at McDonalds, or at a bar’s happy hour, put it towards someone's textbook expense instead. She exceeded her goal of $240.00 two-fold and collected $500.00. According to the National Association of College Stores, $300 is the average cost to cover textbooks in one-semester of college. $500, therefore, helped cover a full year’s worth of textbook costs for a black student hand-picked by the college advisory staff at Clayton High School. This dream, and goal alone, awarded her as a DELUX Magazine 30 Under 30 honoree.
In 2017, to honor Dr. Johnson’s 25th birthday, she set a goal of $2,500.00 to cover the cost of five graduating seniors’ 2017-18 college textbook expenses. That year, along with the minimum 3.0 GPA requirement, qualifications for the scholarship increased: recipient candidates were also required to write essays addressing one of the following prompts: (1) Discuss the importance of education in today’s society; (2) Describe three ways you can positively impact someone else’s future; (3) Discuss something you’ve done that’s made a difference in your community.
"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars" was the theme for her 1st Annual Scholarship Soiree held on the rooftop of the Moonrise Hotel on April 13th. Proceeds collected for tickets went directly towards the foundation for scholarship recipients, and raised a grand total of $5,000.00. By exceeding the $2,500 goal, there is $2,500.00 is in place for 2018's goal.
Dr. Johnson continues to raise the bar: she envisions BooksFromBekkah, Inc. supporting 10 African American students graduating from St. Louis Public Schools, just this spring. Prior to the anticipated 2nd Annual Scholarship Soiree, BooksFromBekkah is halfway to the goal for awarding 10 scholarships.
Dr. Johnson’s passion to make our future African American leaders bright, by decreasing financial burdens and increasing time dedicated to studies, is one of her main focuses. Her ultimate goal?
"I want this organization to be a city-wide, school-known name. When African Americans in St. Louis City reach those final months before graduating high school, I want them to automatically know BooksFromBekkah, Inc. has their backs when they go to college. I don't want to see another 'freshman-year dropout' because of college costs. Family support isn't the easiest, and also not a guarantee, but BooksFromBekkah will be their permanent support system. No questions asked."