A picture of Sydney Bush (left) and Jay-Len McLean (right). Both were recently awarded with the 2021 Alexandra Korry Scholarship from the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF). Photos Courtesy of Sydney Bush and Jay-Len McLean.

Two Stony Brook students, rising senior Sydney Bush and rising junior Jay-Len McLean, were named Alexandra Korry Scholarship recipients by the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF). 

The scholarship is granted annually to one or more promising HEAF college students and includes a stipend towards college expenses and, if applicable, law school or graduate school, as well as mentorship by the Korry Scholarship Committee, comprised of prominent lawyers and judges.

HEAF is an educational non-profit focused on college access and success for youth from underserved communities in New York City. The Alexandra Korry Scholarship was established in 2020 by HEAF to honor the legacy of Alexandra Korry, an attorney, educator and civil rights champion.

Korry served as the head of the New York State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights and worked to help end injustices within school systems. Korry’s work also led to the end of solitary confinement for juvenile inmates in New York City.

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The scholarship is granted annually to promising college students who wish to pursue a career in law, social justice, public service or a related field. Recipients must also demonstrate academic excellence and a commitment to social justice and under-served communities on and off campus. 

This year, Bush and McLean are the only recipients of the scholarship.

Bush is studying sociology and Africana studies. She explained that the combination of these two majors highlights the hardships and victories of those of African descent.

“That wholeheartedly reflects social justice,” Bush said, referring to her studies.

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With plans to pursue a career in education, Bush has a goal of providing others the same support she has received from organizations and school staff along her academic journey.

“I just want to help people in any way that I can,” Bush said, “in the same way that I’ve been helped through programs such as HEAF and EOP.”

Bush grew up in New York City, specifically in the Bronx and Harlem. According to her, she is inspired and motivated by the successful black individuals that she grew up surrounded by, including her parents, teachers and other professionals. These influences encourage her to strive for greatness.

She noted that scholarships like the Alexandra Korry Scholarship allow for more students to feel supported during their academic careers. 

“I think scholarships of this nature are important especially for students who are going into non-STEM fields,” Bush said. “Fields such as sociology, psychology, Africana studies, etc. are equally as important [as STEM fields]. So helping those students who are going into those fields is essential for our society. It’s essential for the success of students like myself who want to pay it forward.”

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The Alexandra Korry Scholarship also directly supports black individuals. Bush said that it “demonstrates that people are investing in black students’ futures.” Donors can directly contribute to the fund on the HEAF website. 

Along with her academic success, Bush is the president of Stony Brook’s Black Student Union, an organization that she has been involved in since her freshman year. 

The Black Student Union was established in 2015 “in order to foster a safe environment for black students on Stony Brook’s campus as well as fight for social justice of the black diaspora within Stony Brook specifically,” Bush said.

McLean is double-majoring in international relations and Africana studies. 

According to McLean, he was inspired by the late Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. Thompson granted clemency to low-level drug offenders who were victims of the war on drugs. Similarly, McLean plans to become an attorney, and eventually, a judge. 

“I hope to be the voice of reason but also of reform,” McLean said. 

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McLean’s strong beliefs about social justice stem from the Brooklyn neighborhood he grew up in. “The harm and the danger that’s been done to my community due to institutionalized and historic precedents of racism has grouped us into these neighborhoods and has not provided resources for our youth,” he said.

McLean’s upbringing also fostered a passion for music. “I live in a low-income neighborhood that has a lot of gun violence and drugs and gang violence,” he said. “Music was my escape from all of that.”

McLean said that he mainly plays the saxophone but plays about 13 instruments in total, including the piano, drums, guitar and oboe. 

According to McLean, his musical endeavors largely influenced his academic career.

“Music was the reason why I was able to move out of my school district into a better school district and move from that school district to an even better school district,” McLean said.”

However, McLean explained that due to institutionalized racism, upward mobility for Black communities is made difficult. This is one of the reasons that he chose to pursue Africana studies. According to McLean, our current society does not allow “for people to live meaningful lives, and lives that allow them social mobility, upward not downward.”

McLean is involved in many on-campus organizations. He is a member of the Black Student Union and the Gospel Choir. Additionally, he is a student assistant for the UNITI Cultural Center.

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Working with the UNITI Cultural Center, McLean co-hosted Diversity Day. He also helped plan many events for Black History Month, and every event for Native American Heritage Month.

Diversity and representation are core values for McLean, which is why he feels so strongly about the Korry Alexandra Scholarship.

“It’s the mission…It stood for all the things that I stand for,” he said.”

McLean said that the advancements he would like to achieve for black communities — both nationally and internationally — can be made by addressing social justice issues one by one; broad policies simply will not cut it. 

McLean reflected on his studies and future plans. “We’re going to change these little parts of the system to make a bigger impact.”

Correction, 06/21/22, 8:17 p.m.: A previous version of this article mistakenly stated McLean is a student assistant for Unity and Cultural Center. It should have said the UNITI Cultural Center. 

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