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Painter Jane Bunker’s crusade to help African-American scholars continues — with a few changes

Scholars with Jane Bunker’s painting “Stargazer.”
Luxury Living Tampa Bay

NOTE: A version of this story appears in the print and digital editions of the Spring 2020 issue of duPont REGISTRY Tampa Bay, which went to press before the COVID-19 outbreak. The dates and other plans mentioned in that version of the story have since changed; the following contains updated information.

Let’s see. What would be a good way to raise scholarship funds for college-bound African American high school seniors in Pinellas County?

A bake sale? A car wash? A fancy gala?

Or how about selling… paintings?

That was the perhaps unlikely notion of artist Jane Bunker, whom I interviewed last year about her plans to auction off her gorgeous, luminescent paintings of lilies to to fund a new scholarship initiative, the Woodson Warriors Scholarships Fund, at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in St. Petersburg.

Jane Bunker in the lobby of American Stage, where one of her paintings was displayed. Photo: Mason Morfit.

Well, unlikely it may have been, but her plan paid off big-time: Through auction sales and donations, $43,000 was raised last year, 100 percent of which was distributed by the museum to 17 college-bound students.

This year she planned to do it again, painting even more lilies and setting an even more ambitious goal: $100,000. But then COVID-19 entered the picture. Plans to hold an auction on Apr. 11 at the Carter Woodson were put on hold, and Bunker and the museum decided not to continue taking applications for a new group of 2020 scholars. 

Instead, money from painting sales and donations received by May 15, 2020 will be distributed to the 2019 scholars who have successfully completed their freshman year and plan to continue in college. All funds raised from May 15 onward will be saved for the new 2021 scholars. The re-scheduled auction, free and open to the public, will be held in March 2021 at the Woodson Museum.

“With funds already gathered from recent painting sales and many generous donations and pledges,” says Bunker, “we anticipate being able to give our 2019 scholars significant financial assistance for their sophomore year.”

I can tell you from speaking to three of these scholars that the money will be well spent. They’ve already had success at school, and their maturity and potential are impressive.

Pinellas Park High grad Amya Ellison, 18, began her first-year studies at the University of Florida over the summer (she plans to major in environmental management). The scholarship meant she was able to afford food and textbooks. Photo: Mason Morfit 

 

Lauryn Latimer, 19, who like Amya is a first-generation college student, graduated from the Center for Advanced Technologies at Lakewood High School and is now studying to be a speech pathologist at USF. Being a Woodson Warrior has helped boost her self-confidence. “I’m a warrior,” she says. “I have the strength to fight through this.” Photo: Mason Morfit.

 

Daniel Sanders, a 19-year-old grad of the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School, is already making a mark at Florida Southern College in Lakeland. He co-founded the college’s first campus radio station; he does the public announcing for home basketball games; and he plays drums for services at the college chapel. He’s hoping to be a voiceover artist and/or a radio personality and/or a music producer someday. Photo: Mason Morfit.

Daniel Sanders told me that being a Woodson Warrior is “more than just getting a scholarship. It’s about being able to achieve not necessarily what’s expected of you but going beyond that and showing what you are capable of.”

These young people, I can assure you, are capable of a lot. 

To see these students and their peers on video, go to bunkerscholarshipauction.com, where you can also learn more about the auction and Jane Bunker’s art. Paintings can be viewed and purchased at the website and seen at Bunker’s home in Gulfport through May. Any questions should be directed to Jane at 505-577-8018 or at janewbunker@gmail.com.

 You can donate directly to the Woodson Warriors Scholarships Fund at woodsonmuseum.org. Select “Scholarship” at the top of the screen and select the yellow “Donate” button on the Woodson Warrior Scholarship page. Or write a check payable to “Woodson Museum”: Put “Woodson Warriors” on the memo line and mail to: Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum, 2240 9th Ave. S., St. Petersburg, FL 33712.

Update: The financial pressures brought on by COVID-19 are posing a potential threat to these students’ future education, according to recent reports. Amya Ellison’s father is an Uber driver and his income has been significantly reduced during the pandemic. “If school remains virtual,” Amya said recently, “I won’t have to pay for housing. However, I’ll still have to pay for everything else.” Lauryn Latimer is also worried. Her father and brother have been furloughed from their jobs, and while she and her mother both still work (Lauryn at Publix, her mom at BayCare Health Systems), the dual challenge of working and going to school is tougher than ever.“It’s hard to make ends meet while going to school and working,” Lauryn said. “I doubt I’ll be able to afford next semester.” All of which is more reason to donate; it would be a shame if students as talented as these did not have the chance to continue their college educations.

 

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