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Student wins award for essay about technology’s effect on civil rights

Article from University of Miami – News@The U

By Ashley A. Williams


The National Council of Negro Women partnered with the Dorothy I. Height Education Foundation and Meta to award Jalaiya Cunningham, a first-year University of Miami student, a scholarship based on her commitment to the intersection of civil rights and technology.

Jalaiya Cunningham witnessed firsthand how technology and the civil rights movement intersected during the 2020 George Floyd protests—when social media was used as a tool to instantaneously bring awareness to various social justice issues. 

Cunningham, now a first-year student studying sociology and communications at the University of Miami, wrote an essay about the intersection of technology and civil rights and has been selected as a recipient of the inaugural 2023 Project Height Scholarship award by the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the Dorothy Irene Height Education Foundation, and Meta. 

“More people, including many of my peers, feel like they have a voice within technology [rather] than if they were in person,” said Cunningham, who noticed an increase in online activism from peers who were considered quiet at school. “People can reach audiences far and wide today even if they are shy or an introvert—their voices are being heard more than ever.” 

Cunningham’s essay reflected on her real-life experiences in her hometown of Washington, D.C., and gave her the experience of taking such a nuanced topic and narrowing it down to a clear and concise point. 

“The question posed was challenging because it was an obvious question, but I came up with great examples,” said Cunningham. “The theme of my essay was about speaking up and standing out.” In it she pointed out how technology “allows people to send messages on a local and global scale” and “offers tools that can be used in so many ways including bringing awareness to areas that are sometimes overlooked.’’ 

Named after Dorothy Irene Height, former 40-year NCNW president, the joint initiative was established to support undergraduate and graduate students with career interests at the intersection of technology and civil rights. As Cunningham pursues her education at the University, she said that she is looking forward to one day working with youth in communities of color. 

Each student awardee received $10,000 to assist with their studies and also was invited to participate in Meta-sponsored programming designed to further explore technology through a civil rights lens in the areas of project management, data science, and inclusive design and user experience. 

“It feels amazing to be a part of this inaugural cohort, and I feel blessed to have been selected,” said Cunningham.