A group known as Community United is working to bridge the achievement gap for African American students in Alaska by offering college scholarships to hardworking high school students. 

According to the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, African American high schoolers are twice as likely to drop out of school as their Caucasian counterparts.

In 2017, Vonnie Gaither, a former career resource adviser at East High School in Anchorage, formed Community United to try to change that. Gaither says the mission is to address the achievement gap, promote equity for African American students, increase collaboration among Anchorage organizations and connect students with African American professionals in the community.  

"I had offered the idea to the district, to do it district-wide, but it was voted down, so I decided just to make it a community project," Gaither said.

Gaither also says the project is a way to acknowledge the academic achievements of African American students.

"African American students don't get a lot of recognition," she said. "We seem to make the papers when we do something negative, and I really think these kids need to see the people who are giving them the money, let them know that the community is behind them and that we think they're special."

Last year, Community United awarded over $100,000 in college scholarships through donations from various organizations, including Rasmuson Foundation, University of Alaska Anchorage, Evalyn’s Floral, Steps 2 Success and Scholarship Prep.

On Saturday, 25 students will be awarded scholarships. 

"All of them had to do a portfolio or some sort of application," Gaither said.  "Most of them had to have a GPA that fell within certain boundaries, so a lot of it is based on their academia."

Sonya Hunte, Vice President of Education Impact for United Way of Anchorage, will be the keynote speaker at Saturday's awards ceremony. The event will be in UAA's Lucy Cuddy Hall and starts at 11 a.m. 

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