The African American Education Fund (AAEF) at CVCF seeks to provide scholarship support to African American and BIPOC students involved in the African American experience, who seek degrees at four-year college institutions. The fund also supports organizations that fall within the same criteria through scholarships and other resources—one of the primary organizations it supports is the United Negro College Foundation(UNCF)-Fresno.
Students who have benefited from the AAEF have excelled personally and professionally. Despite facing many challenges, these exemplary scholars have gone on to successful careers in fields including law and STEM, social sciences and other disciplines. The AAEF has helped many students financially as they pursue their educational goals.
Jo Gbujama was a UNCF-Fresno scholarship recipient. An exemplary student, the Clovis West High School graduate aspired to become a lawyer. Jo became acquainted with the local UNCF members, and along with his scholarship, he received great mentorship. His key mentor, providing invaluable support and guidance, was Fresno’s UNCF President, Dr. Robert Mitchell.
“The greatest piece of advice Dr. Mitchell has given me is to stay Black and stay focused—to keep up the hard work in school and I will be able to accomplish everything I want,” Jo said.
Jo attended UC Riverside, where he demonstrated excellence in his studies and through his involvement with extracurricular activities. He was a founding member of the Black Student Task Force and developed programs with the university’s administration to improve recruitment and retention of Black students. He presented at campus conferences, underscoring issues ranging from the importance of cultural expression in professional settings to discussing the evolution of racism. Upon graduation, he received the Nathan Alex Irving Award, which is annually awarded to one black male for academic excellence and leadership in uplifting black communities.
After graduating cum laude from UC Riverside in 2018, with the highest GPA for dual majors in his field (Philosophy Law & Society and Ethnic Studies, B.A.), Jo attended Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri. In law school, he served as a board member for several student organizations, worked as an Admissions Ambassador with the law school to aid in the recruitment of students of color, and published an article in the Washington University Law Review Online. He received his Juris Doctorate with a Certificate in Public Interest Law in May 2021 and the Dean’s Service Award for completing over 75 hours of pro bono legal service.
Throughout his entire academic career, he stayed connected with his mentor Dr. Mitchell. After making the move to St. Louis, Dr. Mitchell introduced him to people in the area he could connect with. He also gifted Jo a blue blazer he wore to several events as he networked with attorneys at job fairs. They make it a priority to grab lunch and check in whenever Jo is home in Fresno for the holidays.
“Because of Dr. Mitchell’s advice and UNCF’s support, I was able to graduate from a UC with honors, attend a top 20 law school, and attain some of the most prestigious and competitive positions available for law graduates all while being able to make a difference in my community as a student through pro bono legal work. Without UNCF, I would not have been so privileged.”
Jo will work as a Labor and Employment Attorney at Littler Mendelson P.C. in October 2021. Littler is an international, U.S. based law firm that handles labor and employment litigation as well as global mobility and immigration issues. With over 1500 attorneys, Littler is the largest labor and employment law firm in the world and consistently receives high rankings in diversity, working conditions for women, and innovation.
After two years at Littler, Jo will complete a federal clerkship at the Northern District of Illinois, in Chicago. As a law clerk, he will provide direct assistance and counsel to a judge in making legal determinations and in writing opinions by researching issues before the court. A clerkship with a federal judge is one of the most highly sought positions in the legal field.
“The mentorship and support of Dr. Mitchell and UNCF changed the trajectory of my career by reminding me about the importance of empowering and supporting others to achieve their goals. I never turn down a student who has asked for my help and I am always reaching out to try and help students trying to get to the next level because of his influence. Because I’ve invested in my community in this way, others have invested in me and I am excited for the opportunity to pay it forward and help others achieve their goals and aspirations.”
“How do we best deliver support so that our students are pushed beyond the barriers that attempt to stifle their momentum,” said Dr. Mitchell. “When we become their mentor, we share! Life experiences, roads less traveled, world views, community debts owed, and our unfaltering advocacy for dream attainment; these are but a few of the pillars in the foundation that builds upon a student’s life long pursuit of knowledge. And once adopted, can be passed on for generations to come.”