Bajan girl gets first Rihanna scholarship
WHAT ARE the similarities between Robyn Fenty and Destini Gibbs?
Well, they are both born and bred Bajans but while one is a worldrenowned mega singing superstar named Rihanna, the other may cause people to scratch their heads and ask “Who?”
But Gibbs is determined to make a name for herself – not in singing but in genetics – and she owes it all to Rihanna.
Gibbs is the first ever recipient of the Clara Lionel Foundation’s scholarship programme – the organisation started by Rihanna in 2012, which is named after her grandparents, Lionel Brathwaite and the late Clara Brathwaite. The intention is to award several people each year with the scholarship awards ranging from US$5 000 to up to $50 000, with the amount being based on the student’s financial need.
But who is Destini Gibbs? The 20-yearold was born in St Michael and attended Headstart Nursery School and the Charles F. Broome Primary School – the latter just like Rihanna did – before moving to Brooklyn with her mother, Marqueita Kellman.
Gibbs attended The Beacon School, a selective college-preparatory public high school in New York City. This prestigious school offers extensive opportunities to participate in student organisations, varsity athletics, community service, and international travel.
It also has a stock market club, debate club, model United Nations, math club, drama programme, filmmaking club, photo club, arts committee, yearbook, literary magazine and student government, as well as a wide variety of additional student clubs and activities.
But the road was a tough one for the young woman as she had to pay her way through school, as is the norm overseas, so when she got accepted into the college of her dreams, money became a major concern.
“I had difficulty getting funds for school. I was just trying to eke things out. I applied for several colleges but Cornell was my dream school so I was very happy when I got the acceptance letter but the money was always at the back of my mind,” she said.
Kellman chimed in at this point, saying Cornell was a very expensive place to attend – around US$250 000 for four years – so without a scholarship, it was impossible unless your pockets were very deep. Gibbs said she never lost hope. “I don’t think God would have allowed me to get this far without a way to get through financially,” she said.
And sure enough, help arrived. Kellman said her daughter looked at more than one scholarship programme but none offered enough until she came across the Clara Lionel Foundation in 2013 and was accepted.
“I was so relieved when I got accepted. It was nice not to have to worry about where I would get the tuition from. Now I can focus on my academics, which is a big weight off my shoulders,” she said.
But her mother said the foundation did not just provide funding but went above and beyond the call of duty for her daughter. “The spokesperson for the foundation, Towalame Austin, did not give up. She made sure Destini got into Cornell. I cannot emphasise enough the crucial role both she and Rihanna played in [Gibbs] getting into Cornell,” she said.
Now, the Barbadian student is attached to the Kwak Laboratory as an undergraduate researcher studying genetics. Her goal is to “develop a multi-sequencing technique using RNA sequencing technology in order to cancel out the batch effect that arises when sequencing the numerous genomes in our population” according to Linkedin. If you have no idea what that meant, you are probably not the only one, but it sounds important.
Gibbs said she ultimately wanted to earn a PHD in genetics or genetic counselling but said it would have been a pipe dream without Rihanna and the foundation.
“I owe my entire college career to her and I cannot wait for the day when I can pay it forward. The amount of gratitude for her cannot be put into words. I think it is so wonderful she is giving back like this and helping others,” she said.
As for her mother, Kellman said she was proud but not surprised. After all, her daughter had never shown anything but excellence.
“I never had to worry about her. She was a perfect student and the valedictorian in middle school. She is a hard worker so it is no surprise to me she is doing so well,” she said, adding Gibbs had also won the Errol Barrow Memorial Scholarship – in the name one of Barbados’ national heroes – in her high school sophomore year.