By Darlene Donloe
When Nicole “Neekko” Lindsey was growing up, she had no plans to go to college.
“It wasn’t my goal,” she said. “ I wanted to be an actress. I wanted to be famous.”
Her mother, however, had other plans for her baby girl.
“In high school, my mom kept talking about college and said I needed something stable,” Lindsey said. “She told me to consider going to college. If I was going to go, I was going to do theater, but, again, my mom wanted me to do something else.”
In 2016, Lindsey indulged her mother and became a first-generation college graduate earning a bachelor of arts degree in communications from UC Santa Barbara.
“I looked at it as a privilege to be able to go to college because of my grades,” said Lindsey, who had a 4.5 grade point average in high school due to her advanced classes. “My mom also found some resources and I was able to get some scholarships.”
Fast forward to 2019, and Lindsey is now helping inner-city students attend college through her nonprofit, Education Is Key, an organization that gives scholarships to students heading to universities, community colleges and trade schools.
During her first year, Lindsey, now 27, raised $5,000 and presented scholarships to five inner-city students from Los Angeles.
“I wanted to give out scholarships to students that had my same background,” Lindsey said. “I told myself I would give out scholarships when I graduated.”
Lindsey’s background included growing up in a single-mother household. Her parents were separated, but her father was very much a part of her life.
“I’ve experienced adversity,” Lindsey said. “I’ve experienced being homeless, living on the county and having financial hardships. But I was committed to doing well in school. My mother stressed education. My dad, too. My mom made sure I went to a good school that had magnet programs. I went to youth camps. I learned how to fly a plane at 12 during one of the camps in Compton. My mom wanted me to stay out of trouble. She took my education seriously. Now, I take it seriously.”
While she was in college, Lindsey said she couldn’t shake the urge to give back.
“I kept wondering how I could connect to the youth and make education fun,” she said. “My intention was to also encourage the community to use our power and resources despite the fact that we were being underserved.”
That’s when she decided to fundraise in order to raise money for scholarships.
“I didn’t go to corporations to get the money,” Lindsey said. “I decided to promote the organization to the community, on social media, and by word of mouth.”
To become eligible, students must provide documentation that they have been accepted to a university, state college, community college or a trade school. The application is open to high school seniors and college undergrads and it is highly preferred that they are from the inner city.
“Basically, if you’re attending a school, you’re eligible,” Lindsey said.
The criteria for receiving a scholarship are not based on grade point averages.
“I don’t go based on a grade point average,” Lindsey said. “My thing is, are you in attendance? Can you show proof of college attendance?”
In total, Education Is Key has awarded 17 scholarships. Last year when the pandemic hit, it thwarted the organization’s fundraising efforts.
“In 2020, I gave out 12 scholarships,” said Lindsey, who presents the awards once a year in August. “Although last year was tough because of the pandemic, I still managed to get some donations. Instead of giving away $1,000 scholarships, I just gave out 12 $100 scholarships to help with expenses.”
In a typical year, Lindsey said she would attend a number of events and appear on grassroots podcasts and other platforms to raise funds for Education Is Key.
Currently, due to COVID-19, she is strictly using social media to get the word out and is contemplating an Instagram Liveathon as a fundraiser event.
Education Is Key is not Lindsey’s only nonprofit. While in college, she also started GHETTO shirts. The name comes from her grandmother who created the acronym, from “Guys and Girls Have Enough Talent To Overcome.”
All proceeds from GHETTO go to Education Is Key.
For more information and for donations, visit www.eduiskey.org.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.