Detroit Phoenix Center’s Blair Memorial Scholarship helps college students continue higher education


A recent study by the Wisconsin Hope Lab showed that more than a third of college students in the United States lack enough to eat and keep stable housing. The study of 43,000 students at 31 community colleges and 35 four-year universities in 20 states and Washington, D.C. found that 36% of college students are food insecure, and 36% are in precarious housing situations.

In the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 application cycles, over 41,000 youth applied for homelessness consideration to FAFSA. This is up sharply from 36,500 youth in the 2017-2018 and other application cycles over the years. These numbers only represent the youth that FAFSA has determined. Undetermined numbers for youth applying for homelessness consideration are over a staggering 31,000.


There were only 11 states in the US where the number of youth applying for homelessness consideration with FAFSA surpassed 1,000 and Michigan is one of them. Deep state cuts in funding for higher education over the last decade have contributed to rapid, significant tuition increases and pushed more of the costs of college to students, making it harder for them to enroll and graduate. These cuts also have worsened racial and class inequality, since rising tuition can deter low-income students and students of color from college.


The ever-growing need for financial assistance for college students led to the creation of the Blair Memorial Scholarship, a yearly scholarship awarded to two students who are service recipients who demonstrate academic fortitude and desire to pursue higher education.

The scholarship is named after Blair M. Smith, the late brother of Detroit Phoenix Center Founder & CEO, Courtney Smith. Blair was a compassionate, free spirited young man who loved learning. He served as the founding president of our Youth Development Leadership Council; providing youth focused and centered insight on the development of our Asset Based Resource Center. He transitioned in 2017 leaving behind a powerful legacy and a charge to us all to dispel myths around mental challenges and remove barriers to success.


One of those youth is Armani Arnold, a junior at Michigan State University. A scholarship counselor recommended Detroit Phoenix Center to her when she couldn’t afford to enroll in classes one semester due to financial struggles. The Blair Memorial Scholarship allowed her to re-enroll the next semester and continue her classes since.


Armani is a criminal justice major and this summer she is interning with the Washtenaw County Public Defender’s Office where she is shadowing for an attorney for the Juvenile Defense Office. Looking forward, she wants to go to law school to become a defense attorney, and further down the line hopes to run for office and become a judge.


Detroit Phoenix Center didn’t just help Armani by providing a financial scholarship, she said, “DPC helped me with my class schedule, my employment, sent me care packages of school supplies, food and other necessities, and they call and talk to me regularly to check on me and are active in my life.”


Beyond her educational experience with DPC, Armani is an active member of the Youth Action Board and is a part of the Life Skills Program, a 12-week learning initiative geared toward youth ages 17-24 who are experiencing housing instability or have recently found stable housing.


Youth enrolled in this program are partnered with a mentor for one-on-one support as well as participate in group support activities. Through this program Armani is learning about renter’s rights, financial literacy, and more, and will receive a $1000 stipend when she completes the program to put toward technology she needs and education.


Armani says she does have plans to give back to DPC and the Detroit community saying, “I want to create an organization for Detroit youth who are interested in law. Growing up, I didn’t have my parents around. My mother died when I was young and my father has been incarcerated since I was 11 years old, so I want to help youth who are affected by hardships like mine and provide them with scholarships and assistance to get their education like I have been able to because of Detroit Phoenix Center.”


One thing that Armani wanted to say to youth who are struggling right now is, “Don’t let your setbacks hold you back, let it push you ten steps forward.”

She says that Detroit Phoenix Center has been there for her in ways that she wasn’t able to find before and said, “It feels like a weight off of my shoulders to know that I have a support system now.”


A final thought from our conversation with Armani was a shout-out to her college, Michigan State University, “Go Green!”, she said.


If you or someone you know would like to apply for the Blair Memorial Scholarship, you can do so by selecting the link below.


https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdlXH6PvSdTDtXxEaZrjghIyz1-bUMm_0vgqojuRBUSUPJX3Q/viewform?vc=0&c=0&w=1&flr=0

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