When you’ve worked hard to achieve your version of success, one of the most satisfying things you can do is reach down and help someone else achieve their version of it. That is exactly what Beyoncé is doing with her Formation Scholars program.
The program will award four scholarships to “young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious and confident.” The scholarships are college-specific; one will be awarded at each of the following universities: Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College. The awards are for women studying music, creative arts, literature or African American studies.
This announcement came on the one year anniversary of the release of Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade. The album received widespread acclaim and earned her numerous nominations for awards, most recently winning a Peabody award. The album was a huge commercial success, but more importantly, its powerful message resonated with its audience.
Lemonade celebrated and embraced black womanhood in a way that simply hadn’t before been seen in American popular culture. In a conversation with dream hampton, Regina Bradley said about the album, “Southern black girls and women are at the front of Beyoncé’s vision. Not in the back. Not in her peripherals or tucked away under the heavy assumptions of southern black women and girls as hopeless. We are in the front. We are joyful. We are communal.” This honest, empowering story of black women is what made Lemonade so striking and so meaningful for many of its listeners.
The film includes footage of Malcolm X saying that "the most disrespected person in America is the black woman." Historically, black women have been largely sidelined by both white women and black men. They had to give up their concerns as women to participate in the civil rights movement and ignore racial components of their lives to be involved in the feminist movement. Famous and revered suffragette, Susan B. Anthony even said she would sooner “cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” The feminist movement has often and repeatedly ignored the compounded discrimination that women of color face, historically and to this day*. So for a wildly popular star, often praised as a feminist symbol, to center both her race and her gender, sacrificing neither for the other, was historic and a deeply important message.
When Beyoncé released “Formation” and performed the single at the Superbowl, it became apparent that she was not going to shy away from addressing issues facing the black community. This outspokenness earned her even more praise and love from her fans. It also, as is so often the case for women of color, inspired torrents of criticism, both explicit and thinly veiled. Many saw this as a transition for Beyoncé, out of palatable entertainment and into the business of making political statements. But others, like Zeba Blay, at the Huffington Post, noted that Beyoncé’s work has always been pro-black, just not quite as as loudly. Much of her music and performances have paid tribute to the legacy of black artists who came before her. But with Lemonade, she brought those experiences front and center so that it was no longer possible to ignore the blackness of the music she was creating and the stories she was sharing.
Just as Lemonade was not actually Beyoncé’s first statement for black women, the Formations Scholars program is also not her first step into charitable actions. She has long been contributing to causes that help uplift other women. Perhaps her most widely known endeavor is the Survivor Foundation, which she co-founded with fellow Destiny’s Child singer, Kelly Rowland. This foundation raised millions of dollars for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. She helped found Chime For Change, a campaign to combat the disproportionate amount of poverty affecting women around the world. She created the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center to help women recovering from alcohol and drug addictions get back on their feet by learning the prerequisites to become a licensed cosmetologist. She has served as a World Children’s Day ambassador, contributed to Goodwill, and played a part in many other charities. Her work makes it clear that one of her top priorities is helping women reach their goals.
The Formation Scholars program will help four young women take a huge step toward achieving their goals. This program is just the latest in Beyoncé’s consistent record of using her widespread success in order to center those who are underrepresented or may not have access to as many opportunities. She continues to set a strong example of women uplifting other women. And now she’s looking for four young women to help along the path to creative success. So if you are one of the countless women who have been inspired by her work and you meet the program requirements, be sure to apply by May 12th to be considered for the Formation Scholars program.
*For more on keeping your feminism intersectional as a white woman, I recommend this article by Kim Tran.