TUPELO • After James Shumpert Sr. died of Alzheimer’s in 2014, his family immediately decided to honor his legacy with a scholarship fund.

In 2014, widow Jean Shumpert and other family members created the James Shumpert Sr. College Scholarship Foundation for high school graduates.

“Because my father was a big advocate for education and making sure his kids were able to pursue their education at a higher level, they decided this was an opportunity to create scholarships in his honor,” said Phyllis Shumpert-Davis, a board member of the scholarship foundation and daughter of the late James Shumpert.

Five years later, the foundation has honored its fifth anniversary by awarding five $500 scholarships.

Recipients were honored Saturday evening at the BancorpSouth Conference Center. There was also an auction to raise money, and tickets were sold, with over 125 purchased

Among this year’s recipients were Kacilyn Pegues of Shannon High School, Anthony Wasson of Taylor High School, Jareke Salter of Harold L. Richards High School and Diamond Bradley and Essence Partlow of Tupelo High School.

Wasson plans to major in digital photography at Lone Star College. Bradley will pursue nursing/physical therapy at Northeast Mississippi Community College. Partlow wants to study neonatal nursing at Itawamba Community College. Salter will attend Moraine Valley Community College. Pegues will study either biology or pursue being a pediatrician at the University of Mississippi.

Shemiah Nicole Ross of Shannon High School was also honored as a graduate and plans to pursue a degree in speech pathology.

About 25 students applied for the scholarship, and the winning five were chosen by a committee based on their GPA, plans to attend higher education, and an essay on why they wanted to continue their education. This year’s recipients stood out because of their drive, Shumpert-Davis said.

“Some of it was their drive. You could tell based upon what they submitted and the organizations they were a part of. Some of them were part of the president’s list, the governor’s list . . . [and] extracurricular activities but they were still able to maintain a higher than 3.5 GPA,” Shumpert-Davis said.

The banquet also recognized eighth graders Juleus Mitchell Sr. of the Michelle Obama School of Technology, Rosalyn Weeks of Oakhaven Middle School and Zaniyha Shumpert of Plantersville Middle School.

This was the first year the James Shumpert Sr. College Scholarship Foundation ceremony was held in James Shumpert Sr.’s hometown of Tupelo, as it typically occurs in St. Louis. The location change was not the only big change this year. In addition to awarding more scholarships, there was a new scholarship awarded this year: the Angel Award, given to a student for community and volunteer work. This award was made in honor of Sandra Shumpert Hadley, who passed away in December 2018 from pancreatic cancer. The recipient of this year’s award was Jean Shumpert.

The passing of her sister delayed this year’s ceremony, said Shumpert-Davis. The ceremony usually occurs around April 25, her father’s birthday. Shumpert-Davis said this was the first year the grassroots organization reached out to outside sponsors to raise funds. The organization plans to get nonprofit designation in the next few months so it can formally ask for donations.

There have been six other recipients in previous years. Since the first year, the organization has made a few changes: It now requires proof of college acceptance and college course listings and does the application process completely online. It also added a video showcase of all high school recipients. Shumpert-Davis said they do this to inspire other younger children in attendance to want to learn and be future applicants.

“That’s what my dad wanted. He wanted everyone to know that going to college was an option, it was the thing you were supposed to do, and when you instill that in them when they are younger, that’s just what they think of,” Shumpert-Davis said.

The late James Shumpert was a Mississippi native who attended Carver High School and made history in Chicago as the first African-American Brink’s teller and bank officer. He also worked for the Mississippi Department of Transportation for 15 years and briefly served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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