by David Sedaris
I've never been much for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cab driver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don't really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They're nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn't tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.
What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I've learned from experience that it's best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I've heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn't want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that's become so homogenous, I'm reassured by these last touches of regionalism.
Guns aren't really an issue in Europe, so when I'm traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. "What do your roosters say?" is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark "vow vow" and both the frog and the duck say "quack," the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty "kik-a-ricki." Greek roosters crow "kiri-a- kee," and in France they scream "coco-rico," which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says "cock-a-doodle-doo," my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.
"When do you open your Christmas presents?" is another good conversation starter as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It's nothing I'd want for myself, but I suppose it's fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.
In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.
Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.
One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn't have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he'd most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn't speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he's not fluent, and he certainly doesn't eat tapas.
While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I'm not sure if there's a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.
"Is it just him alone?" I asked. "Or does he come with backup?"
Oscar's English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.
"Helpers," I said. "Does he have any elves?"
Maybe I'm just overly sensitive, but I couldn't help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. "Elves," he said. "They're just so silly."
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count.
The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."
"Yes," he said. "That's it. They'd kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."
"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"
"Well, not anymore," Oscar said. "Now he just pretends to kick you."
"And the six to eight black men?"
He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you, but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old- fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.
"Six to eight, did you say?"
In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.
While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."
This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what's not to love about being Dutch?
Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy—very good company—but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.
From Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris, © 2004 Little, Brown. Permission pending.
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Audio from David Sedaris Live at Carnegie Hall, © 2003 Little, Brown. Permission pending.
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back to Netherlands
Attending college and completing a degree are important academic goals for any student. Unfortunately, there is a pronounced racial gap in enrollment rates at top colleges and universities around the country. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics reveals that fewer than 65% of African American high school students attend college, compared to 70% of white students.
Affordability is a concern for all college-bound students, including African Americans. Fortunately, a number of scholarships and financial aid opportunities are earmarked specifically for their demographic. Several organizations offer even more specific aid opportunities, such as scholarships for African American women.
According to a report from Demos, African American students borrow money more often to complete their bachelor’s degree at a public college than whites. Around 84% of African American graduates used Pell Grants to finance their education and only 60% of white students did the same. Additionally, nearly one in four black borrowers drops out of college, leaving them both in debt and without a degree. Obtaining financial aid can also be challenging. According to a study in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, whites are more likely to receive merit-based scholarships, even after accounting for different enrollment rates between the demographics. These statistics underline the importance of African American scholarships. These awards can help offset the cost of a college education, and leave students less dependent on loans. They also offer African Americans a unique opportunity to pursue financial aid without any strings attached, and without any racial biases favoring another demographic, intentionally or otherwise.
Around 84% of African American graduates used Pell Grants to finance their education and graduated with debt.
Since many African American students are also first-generation college students — a report by Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy reveals that 32% of undergraduates are the first member of their family to attend school — they may feel more pressure to succeed academically and complete their degree in four years or less. Between the financial strain and the added pressure, many students drop out: three out of five first-generation college students do not complete a degree or obtain a credential within six years. Part of the problem is again financial: many first-generation students come from poor families and must rely on loans to fund school, placing them in seemingly-insurmountable debt with each passing year.
A scholarship is a monetary gift for students to use for funding their postsecondary education. Scholarships do not need to be paid back, making them a desirable alternative to student loans. Scholarships may be used to pay for education-related costs including tuition, books, and other course materials. Some scholarships may also be used to cover food, room-and-board, laundry, and day-to-day expenses.
Thousands of different scholarships are available. Merit-based scholarships are typically given to students with high GPAs or an extensive record of community service. Other scholarships may be allotted to certain groups of people, including women or minority students. There are also scholarship options for students who demonstrate financial need. Nonprofits and organizations that support the African American community, some colleges and universities, and even some major employers offer scholarships exclusively for African Americans and minorities.
In order to qualify for most scholarships, students must first complete an application. While the nature of these applications will vary by award, most will include the following general criteria:
External Scholarship Resources
Students who are unfamiliar with scholarship applications should seek advice from educational experts. Here are a few online resources for scholarship applicants to peruse:
How to Apply for a Scholarship
More tips on how to apply for a scholarship from The College Board.
How to Apply for Scholarships
Tips for getting organized and using scholarship search tools to find the right scholarship for you, provided by Sallie Mae.
Top Ten Scholarship Tips
Tips for perfecting the scholarship application process, including advice on people to reach out to.
5 Tips for Winning Scholarships
Tips for finding scholarships and screening available scholarships to find the most worthwhile and effective match for your interests and strengths.
Scholarships for African American Students
- The Jackie Robinson Foundation
Who’s Eligible? The Jackie Robinson Foundation provides resources and scholarships for underserved minority high school seniors who plan to attend an accredited four-year institution in the United States.
Award amount: $30,000 for four years
Deadline: February 1
- EMPOWER Scholarship Award
Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to medical rehabilitation students. It is administered by the Courage Center and funded through the David M. Hersey Endowment Fund. Applicants must show interest in the field and complete at least 200 hours of career-related volunteer service to be eligible for this scholarship.
Award amount: $1,500
Deadline: April 30
- Trustee Diversity Scholarship - Rice University
Who’s Eligible? African American and other minority students at Rice can apply for this scholarship, which covers four years of tuition.
Award amount: $25,500 to $27,000 for up to four years
- Claver Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? Offered to high-achieving students at Loyola-Maryland, these scholarships provide financial assistance to African-American and other minority students. Only entering freshmen are eligible for this scholarship.
Award amount: Up to $26,000
- George Washington Carver Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? This award is intended for freshman African American and minority students at Simpson College.
Award amount: Varies, with some awards $10,000 or higher
Deadline: May 30
- American Bus Association (ABA) Diversity Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? This scholarship supports underrepresented groups, including African Americans, pursuing careers in management and operations in the transportation, travel, and tourism industry.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: April 6
- ACS Scholars Program
Who’s Eligible? These scholarships are intended for African Americans and minorities studying in chemistry and chemistry-related fields. Qualified students must demonstrative high academic achievement in science subjects and be planning a career in chemical sciences.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: March 1
- African American Network of the Carolinas Scholarship Fund
Who’s Eligible? The African American Network is a Duke Energy employee resource group and provides scholarships to college-bound students from North and South Carolina pursuing degrees in engineering, math, science, computer science, accounting, finance, or business administration.
Award amount: $2,000
Deadline: March 2
- AMS Minority Scholarships
Who’s Eligible? Underrepresented student populations are eligible for this award through the American Meteorological Society. The AMS provides scholarships through donations made by members of the AMS Giving Program. These are two-year scholarships distributed once per year.
Award amount: $6,000 ($3,000 each for freshman and sophomore years)
Deadline: February 2
- Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship Program
Who’s Eligible? Brown and Caldwell supports diversity in the workplace and provides a minority scholarship program for African American students and other underrepresented student populations in environmental engineering.
Award amount: $5,000
- Xerox Technical Minority Scholarship Program
Who’s Eligible? Xerox strives to promote diversity in its workplace and awards up to $10,000 to qualified minorities enrolled in a technical degree program at the undergraduate level or above. Applicants can submit their information online along with an electronic version of their resume.
Award amount: $1,000 to $10,000
Deadline: September 30
- Ron Brown Scholar Program
Who’s Eligible? Intended for African American high school seniors, this program rewards applicants with a record of academic excellence, exceptional leadership potential, and active community members with a demonstrable financial need.
Award amount: $40,000 ($10,000 for four years of college)
Deadline: November 1 (early application deadline); January 9 (final deadline)
Scholarships for African American Women
- The National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? The NANBPWC awards the National Scholarship to a female African American graduating high school senior with a 3.0 GPA or higher. An essay is required.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: March 1
- Formation Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? Created by Beyoncé to commemorate the one-year anniversary of her LEMONADE album, this award supports female students studying creative arts, music, literature or African American studies. The scholarship is available through four participating institutions: Berklee College of Music, Parsons School of Design, Howard University and Spelman College.
Award amount: $25,000 per recipient (one recipient per school)
Deadline: Varies by institution
- Dr. Arnita Young Boswell Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to African American students currently enrolled at an accredited college or university. Applicants must provide three letters of recommendation and an essay demonstrating their social commitment and involvement within the African American community.
Award amount: $1,000
Deadline: March 1
- Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier 'Sister to Sister' Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? This award is reserved for African American female students who are at least 21 years old and returning to college after their education was interrupted by ‘family responsibilities or other personal demands.’ Applicants must be currently attending or accepted to a college or university.
Award amount: $500
Deadline: March 1
STEM Scholarships for African American Students
- National Society of Black Engineers
Who’s Eligible? The NSBE offers several private and corporate-sponsored scholarships and awards for black engineering students. Applicants must be active NSBE members and are required to submit transcripts to the main office before the due date. More than $500,000 in awards and scholarships are available each year.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: December 22 (fall deadline); February 28 and April 27 (spring deadlines)
- NACME Scholars Block Grant Program
Who’s Eligible? This program provides minority college scholarships to eligible students as a lump sum grant. Students must demonstrate academic excellence and enroll in an engineering program at a partner university.
Award amount: $12,500 for up to five years
- Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) Program
Who’s Eligible? This program was developed specifically to encourage diversity in atmospheric sciences. Black students interested in STEM careers may consider a career in this field and be eligible for an award after completing at least two years of college.
Award amount: Varies
- Morris A. Esmiol, Jr. Scholarship in Engineering in UCS
Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is funded by The Sachs Foundation and is designed specifically for African American undergraduate students pursuing a career in engineering. Applicants must be attending or have been admitted to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs College of Engineering and Applied Science Program.
Award amount: $6,000 per year
Deadline: March 15
- ESA Foundation Computer & Video Game Scholarship Program
Who’s Eligible? Women or minority students pursuing computer and video game art degrees are qualified for this award. High school seniors interested in the field are also eligible.
Award amount: $3,000
Deadline: May 4
Scholarships for First Generation African American Students
- RMHC® African American Future Achievers Scholarship Program
Who’s Eligible? Eligible students are graduating high school seniors with at least one African American parent who live within the boundaries of a participating Ronald McDonald House Charity Chapter. Awards are granted based on academic achievement, financial need, and community participation.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: January 18
- Bay Area Minority Law Student Scholarship Program
Who’s Eligible? Aspiring black lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area are eligible. Applicants must be a current or incoming law student at an accredited law school in San Francisco.
Award amount: $10,000 per year
Deadline: April 20
- Colorado Christian University World Changers Scholarship
Who’s Eligible? This scholarship is awarded to minority students whose parents did not attend college or obtain a Christian college degree. It provides financial support for minority students, including African American students, as well as leadership development activities and personal mentoring.
Award amount: Full tuition (up to eight semesters)
- Fontana Transport Inc. Scholars Program
Who’s Eligible? This program is open to underrepresented, low-income first generation students interested in attending college and studying one of the following fields: transportation management, math, science, engineeering, architecture, environmental design, pre-med, psychology or Spanish language/literature. The scholarship is provided by a family-owned trucking company located in California.
Award amount: Varies
Deadline: March 14
In most cases, grants are awarded to further an organization’s research efforts or to support a student that may have a vested interest in the organization itself. Grant recipients are not always limited to students and are not awarded based on need or merit. The U.S. Department of Education offers discretionary grants, formula grants, and student loans or grants, such as the Pell grant. Like scholarships, they do not need to be repaid.
Grants for African American Students
Much like scholarships, grants are monetary gifts for students to use for tuition, course fees, and living expenses while enrolled in a college program. Grants are usually need-based, and in some cases the recipient may be required to pay back unused funds upon graduation.
- AICPA Fellowship for Minority Doctoral Students
Who’s Eligible? As part of its diversity initiative to increase representation of ethnically diverse CPA professors, the American Institute of CPAs provides scholarships and fellowship opportunities for minority doctoral students. Eligible students must have applied to a doctoral program and have at least three years of full-time experience in the field.
Award amount: $12,000 awarded annually
Deadline: May 15
- Ford Foundation Fellowship Programs
Who’s Eligible? The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine offers this fellowship to underrepresented students and provides awards for approximately 60 predoctoral students annually. These support recipients for three years while they complete their degree.
Award amount: $24,000 per year
Deadline: January 9
- Carl Albert Rouse Undergraduate Research Fellowship
Who’s Eligible? Offered by the National Society of Black Physicists (NSBP), this fellowship is designed specifically for black physicists who will be conducting research with the LIGO Laboratory. It is awarded annually to undergraduates.
Award amount: Varies
- Lydia Donaldson Tutt-Jones Memorial Research Grant
Who’s Eligible? These grants are intended for graduate students and professionals dedicated to researching African American success in education. Grant applications must include six sets of materials.
Award amount: $5,000
Deadline: June 1
Grades and Transcripts – Most scholarships (merit- and non-merit-based) require a minimum GPA for consideration; this minimum is usually 2.5 or higher. Additionally, some impose minimum scores on the SAT, ACT, or other college admissions tests.
Essay – Many scholarships require applicants to complete an original written testimonial explaining why they deserve the award.
Letters of Recommendation – A scholarship application may ask for letters of recommendation from teachers, school counselors, former employers, and other people who have interacted with the student in an educational or professional environment. These letters should not come from friends, relatives, or family acquaintances.
College Information – Many scholarships will only award money to applicants who have enrolled or plan to enroll in an accredited postsecondary institution within the following year. Some are only allotted to students who plan to pursue certain fields of study.
Other Financial Aid – For needs-based scholarships, applicants may need to prove they are not receiving federal financial aid, additional scholarships, grants, or other forms of monetary support.
Tips and Tricks
Students have plenty on their plate during their last two years of high school, but they shouldn’t neglect applying for scholarships. Below are a few useful tips for students sifting through a variety of scholarship opportunities:
Outline Application Priorities
All scholarships have different eligibility criteria and requirements. Some ask for an essay on a particular topic while others require letters of recommendation. It’s important for students to adhere to all requirements; submissions that ignore instructions will be discarded.
Create a Checklist with Due Dates
Make a checklist of to-do items for each scholarship, recording submission deadlines and specific instructions. Regardless of how many scholarships you are applying for, breaking down the applications into specific tasks can help you keep everything on track.
Make Time for the Essay
When a scholarship-granting organization asks for an essay, they want applicants to take their time reviewing the question and articulating an answer. It’s important that students conduct the necessary research, and to write, edit, and proofread the essay before submitting it.
Follow Instructions to the Letter
This one speaks for itself: applications that do not follow instructions will be discarded, so be sure to provide whatever information and materials the award requests.
Make Copies Of All Submissions
Students should make copies of all materials they submit, in the event that the organization loses all or part of your application. Submitting applications early is advisable, in case your submission is returned or gets lost in the mail.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF GRANTS
Federal Pell Grants
Pell grants are federal need-based grants designed to support low-income students. These grants are awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.
Grants from State Governments
Individual states may award state grants for local residents. These are typically awarded by institutions, such as the state’s Department of Education, state Department of Grants Program, and other non-profit organizations.
Private foundations, community organizations, and individuals may award grants to support students. They are also awarded to those seeking a research grant that would benefit the organization.
Other Ways to Save
- Fee Waivers for Entrance Exams
Low-income high school students who are applying for the SAT and ACT exam can pursue a fee waiver. Eligibility criteria includes enrollment or eligibility to participate in the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program (FRPL) and meeting certain income eligibility requirements.
- Apply for Early Admission
Students who already know which school they would automatically go to if they were accepted can apply early so they can get an answer before they start applying (and paying application fees) to other schools.
- Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Through an employer tuition reimbursement program, employees of a participating corporation or organization may take college courses that are paid for by their employer. Employers may pay up to $5,250 in tax-free educational assistance per student per year. While these funds may be awarded to students who are non-degree-seeking, they can only be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies and equipment as related to direct education costs.
- Use A Common App
Hundreds of colleges and universities allow students to submit an application to several colleges at once using a single, centralized application submission platform. Students only need to pay a one-time application fee to participate, which can save them hundreds of dollars on application fees and time spent submitting applications.
Additional Resources for African American Students
- United Negro College Fund (UNCF): The country’s largest minority education organization awards scholarships and internships for low-income and moderate-income students at more than 1,100 colleges throughout the U.S.
- Black Excel: Provides a comprehensive list of scholarships for African Americans and minorities, including black women.
- HBCU Network: HBCU Network provides resources for students at HBCUs including a comprehensive listing of HBCUs in the United States, events, and career information for graduates or internship seekers.
- Black Career Network: Job board for African American graduates or those seeking internship opportunities while in school.
Additional Resources for First Generation Students
- First In the Family: This comprehensive site features planning checklists, links, videos, and books for first-generation students seeking advice.
- ImFirst.org: Students can join this online community to get support and find resources to plan their college career as a first-generation student.
- FirstGen Fellows: Provides information about community, nonprofit, and other programs across the country that support low income and first-generation students.