We’re excited to announce the recipient of our second-annual Zipwhip scholarship! This scholarship aims to build more equitable leadership representation in the technology industry so that people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can contribute to the products that shape our daily lives.
This year, we partnered with the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) to help lighten the financial burden of college for one Black student and aid in their success by providing resources and mentorship.
After reading more than 100 inspiring essays, we’re thrilled to award our 2021 Black Leadership scholarship to Kimberly Rousseau-Simmons!
Kimberly is currently studying occupational therapy at Colorado State University with the hopes of one day owning her own consulting company that helps businesses better support workers with disabilities. You can read more about her plans in her full essay below.
Kimberly’s scholarship essay
Growing up, I was fortunate to have excellent role models in my life for leadership. My parents emigrated from the Caribbean and worked hard to provide for my sister and me. My grandmother worked odd jobs until she landed on her dream job of being a librarian. My grandparents were leaders in their church, my father was a manager for data center operations at a tech company, and my sister also rose to management in her career. What this all came down to for me is 1) knowing your self-worth, and 2) trusting in your instincts no matter what the outside world says.
My plan for leadership is three-pronged: own my own consulting company, own my own line of products, and open a series of community centers in our neighborhoods that provide health and wellness, afterschool programs, and leadership classes. My new career as an Occupational Therapist will equip me with the most valuable skill for leadership: active listening. The profession’s focus on person-centeredness is how you empower leaders. You converse with the person about their concerns then you get to work creating solutions. This can only happen with capital (and maybe with the help of a few ‘woke’ individuals) as support which is why encouraging business ownership is key to becoming leaders.
My first plan for leadership is to engage companies and builders to invest in going beyond Americans with Disability Act (ADA) compliance. Many of our brothers and sisters are out of work due to disabilities and have difficulty navigating their home as well. According to the Cornell University Disability Statistics, 70% of low or no-vision people are unemployed in the U.S. (Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S., 2017). My goal is to work with businesses to demonstrate that people who are permanently or temporarily disabled can contribute to the workforce in a meaningful way. Additionally, I plan to earn a certificate in home modifications through the American Occupational Therapy Association and work with builders to create universal home and building designs. This means addressing a wide variety of disabilities as a design challenge not an afterthought. I will make myself available to engineering and architecture students and collaborate with their professors on accessible design within their curriculum.
Why is this important? When you create an environment so supportive, you eliminate the ‘I can’t’ statement. The disability experience among African Americans is not often discussed nor should it be ignored when discussing leadership. I am also not only discussing physical disability but mental health as well. Trauma is ubiquitous within our community therefore creating a supportive physical environment is one step in promoting empowerment. Once one is empowered with the tools, leadership is a natural follow.
Encouraging leadership amongst us is not an easy task in America. We must create a culture that delivers on hope and that actively listens. I believe the best way is to work on the emotional and physical barriers to success then create the model to be implemented nationwide.