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What do you get the woman who has everything? Last September, celebrity jewelry designer Lorraine Schwartz found the answer. Rather than gifting her friend Beyoncé Knowles-Carter a piece of jewelry for her birthday, Schwartz offered to create a scholarship for a young Black student to study at the Gemology Institute of America (GIA). A nonprofit, GIA loved the idea so much that they decided to match that plan with a second scholarship—and after being unable to narrow it down to just two, Beyoncé decided to offer one more scholarship.
Now, the Beyoncé Knowles-Carter x Lorraine Schwartz GIA Scholarship is offering three students the opportunity to complete GIA's Graduate Gemologist program, with tuition and expenses paid in full, for a total of more than $20,000 each.
On April 19, after an intensive application process that included rounds of interviews and a personal essay, the winners were notified that they'd been selected for the scholarship during a Zoom call. I was invited to watch (virtually) as the surprise unfolded exclusively for Oprah Daily; each of the recipients thought they were participating in an interview with Lorraine Schwartz, plus GIA's president and CEO Susan Jacques, and Parkwood Entertainment's Director of Social Responsibility Ivy McGregor.
The first winner was Audriana Osborne, a 24-year-old from Montgomery, Alabama who aspires to apply her background in legal advocacy to the jewelry industry. The second was Shelton Bradford, 35, from Lake Forest, California, a father of three who plans to start his own men's jewelry business to pass down to his children.
Bradford and Osborne were each moved to tears when the realized they weren't on a call for another interview, but instead were each receiving a scholarship.
"I've never seen anyone from my community working in the jewelry industry before," said Bradford, whose application essay shared how his curiosity about the science of gems began during a deployment in Afghanistan. "I think men love jewelry just as much as women, and when I researched Lorraine Schwartz and the work that she's done...she has a really great eye for art, and aesthetics, and value. I want to bring that to a men's line. It's always been my dream to work for myself and be my own boss!"
For Osborne, studying at GIA will result in her third degree, adding to a Bachelor's from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and a law degree from Howard University. "Growing up in Montgomery, I saw lots of Black professionals in different creative industries. I would love to contribute to be a part of that representation. I feel so blessed and honored to have this responsibility...to carry on the torch, so that maybe other Black people will be looking at this scholarship and think 'Hey, maybe I can do that!'"
Just as this story was going to press, Beyoncé's team—who helped her go through every single applicant for consideration—called to let me know that the pop star was so excited about the scholarship, she had decided to fund a third scholarship for 35-year-old Kulla Jatani, who moved with her family as refugees from Nairobi, Kenya to Seattle, Washington when she was just 6. By 12, she was handcrafting her own jewelry as a hobby. Now, thanks to the scholarship, she hopes to turn her online store, kullajewelry.com, into her own storefront one day.
“I was impressed with their passion and the knowledge of gems that so many applicants displayed,” Beyoncé said of all three winners in a statement. “I am praying that this is just the beginning of opening more doors to diversity and raw inspiration in the jewelry industry.”
During the Zoom chat, Schwartz offered to collaborate with all three recipients. And she says that on a personal level, creating this scholarship is particularly an "honor" because it's in Beyoncé’s name. "She has been my friend, muse, and the canvas for which I show my jewelry on for the last 20 years," Schwartz says. "Her work for the Black community is without limit, and her efforts have made me extremely proud to be her friend and partner on this initiative."
In addition to offering an opportunity to three talented students, both Beyoncé and Schwartz hope to help increase diversity in the jewelry industry. Schwartz says that in her experience, she's typically seen jewelry businesses handed down in white families, from fathers to sons.
And last year, in a 473-person employee-focused survey conducted by National Jeweler, of the survey-takers who identified as people of color, 52 percent considered their industry "very good" when it comes to matters of race and diversity, while 32 percent said their company was “fair" and 25 percent reported "poor." Several employees included anonymous comments about experiencing racism in the workplace, or seeing non-white employees "relegated to lower-paying roles."
Now, it's Beyoncé and Schwartz's intention that Bradford, Osborne, and Jatani can be just the beginning of transforming an industry when they begin their studies with GIA in the fall. After hearing the news, Bradford said he plans to celebrate with his wife and boys—who he calls his real gems—while Osborne said she was looking forward to a pandemic-safe gathering with family and "good food."
You can learn more about GIA's Gemology Graduate Diploma here. Congratulations to the winners; watch their reaction and acceptance of the scholarship in the video above.
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