During Black History Month, as we recognize invaluable past and present accomplishments, the ESA Foundation focuses on tomorrow’s innovators.

By Anastasia A. Staten

Black History Month, which began as just a week-long celebration nearly 100 years ago, focuses on the amazing accomplishments of African Americans in this country, both past and present. While the video game industry’s history is relatively short, there’s still a lot to celebrate this month, including the incredible work of people like Morgan Gray, Karisma Williams and Gordon Bellamy.

But at the ESA Foundation, we’re also very much focused on the future.

The beating heart of our mission is a scholarship program that supports women and minority college students aspiring to work in the video game industry. We offer not only monetary and networking support, but a platform enabling students to share their unique voices—a platform, in other words, that empowers them.

So every year, in considering scholarship recipients, we look carefully at the teenage and twentysomething applicants’ records and we listen to their stories. Those stories as well as their backgrounds and passion for playing and creating video games are indicators of the kinds of innovators they may one day be.

“Many years ago, I attended Harvard on an engineering scholarship from AT&T,” says Bellamy, an industry innovator and executive. “Just like that scholarship, these ESA scholarships help afford students time to learn, explore and, in many cases, innovate in their chosen craft.

“For me, the scholarships are one tangible way that our industry shows that these students are of value as they are today. There’s also an expectation and hope that they will be valuable contributors, creators and leaders in the future.”

Accordingly, in honor of Black History Month, I’d like to introduce you to three young, hungry and talented ESA Foundation scholars you’ll more than likely be hearing about in the future. Their energy is palpable, as is their desire to share their ideas, skills and personal experiences with the game-playing public. Get to know them a little now through their scholarship acceptance videos and, in one case, a Q&A:

 

Cory Pfeiffer

Freshman, game modeling and design major, DigiPen Institute of Technology

“The video games industry needs diversity to thrive—women, people of color, LGBT+ people and other minorities all deserve the opportunity to tell their stories through games. As a black, bisexual trans man, I rarely feel seen or represented in popular media. I want to change that dynamic, not just for me, but for everyone with a passion for games. Interactive media is a powerful tool for communication, and the message I want to send is: ‘There is power and beauty in everything that makes you different.’”

Watch Cory’s video here.

 

Nyhriel Smith

Freshman, computer science major, Howard University

“In society, we have an idea of what’s right and wrong. Like a thief stealing food to feed their family—is that right or wrong? I’ve been put in a lot of positions like that where I wasn’t directly involved, but I’m on the sideline watching these things happen. In my games, I want to replicate that feeling of being a black kid in a society where some of the things that your family members have to do to survive aren’t deemed right, but they have to do it to survive.”

Hear more from Nyhriel through her Q&A and watch her video here.

 

Denzil Bilson

Freshman, computer engineering major, University of Colorado at Boulder

“As a child of Ghanaian immigrants, at times I felt like an outcast. Through my love of computers, I found a medium to connect with people and bond over our mutual love of technology. It was the means by which I played, communicated and learned. My dream is to effect change in the world through computers. I want to learn how to build comprehensive software that powers the world around me and helps the less fortunate who have not been able to access the technology I have.”

Watch Denzil’s video here.

 

Impressed with these students and their voices? If yes, we encourage you to help us nurture such talent by contributing, in one or more ways, including as a mentor, to the ESA Foundation and its programs. For more information, please contact ESAFInfo@TheESA.com.

Anastasia A. Staten

Anastasia A. Staten is executive director of the ESA Foundation, which, aside from providing scholarships to the next generation of industry innovators, supports charitable organizations and schools leveraging interactive entertainment technology to create meaningful opportunities for America’s youth and demonstrating the social impact of video games.

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