TOWNSHIP – The O’Jays have given their hometown more than the gift of music.
Over the past 16 years, the legendary musical group has helped foster higher education for dozens of Stark County students through the O’Jays Scholarship Fund.
To date, $145,693 has been distributed to 59 students through the fund, which was launched in 2006 and is administered by the Stark Community Foundation.
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2022 O’Jays Scholarship Winners
This year’s recipients received scholarships of $2,143 each. They are McKenzie Mack, Amir Stokes, Julian Hanlin and Phoenix N. Lee.
Lee, a former McKinley High School varsity gymnast, is a junior at Ohio State University majoring in health sciences.
“I hope to become a physical therapist one day so I can help people in underserved communities,” she said.
Stephanie Rushin Patrick, president of the scholarship fund, said part of the criteria for applicants was to write an essay about the O’Jays, their influence and their contributions.
“That’s one of the things that’s really important,” she said. “Some of these kids are so young that we asked them to write essays.”
Committee members are Pat Williams, Cynthia Hopkins, Chris Stone and Sandy Womack Jr.
Womack, a former Canton City School administrator who now works in Columbus, said the scholarships, which are aimed at helping working-class and non-traditional students, are a testament to the O’Jays’ enduring commitment to their hometown. .
He cited the band’s celebrity golf tournament at Clearview Golf Club in Osnaburg Township, banquets and benefit concerts to raise money for scholarships.
“They brought a lot of attention to the city,” he said. “They haven’t lived in Canton for years. It’s important and impressive…these gentlemen got the job done.”
Womack agrees with Patrick that student essays are an important part of the application process.
“Their stories are more compelling than their GPAs,” he said.
How the O’Jays Scholarship Fund Began
Former Pro Football Hall of Fame President Stephen V. Perry was head of the United States General Service Administration under President George W. Bush when he was contacted by members of O ‘Jays, Eddie Levert and Walter Williams.
“They were working with (then Alderman) Thomas West, who wanted to rename (Mahoning Road NE) ‘The O’Jay’s Parkway,'” Perry recalled. “They didn’t know much about him and asked if I could get involved, and we worked out how to do that. During our discussions, they came up with the idea of a concert by back. Eddie and Walt suggested the scholarship.”
Perry advised them to manage the scholarship fund through the Stark Community Foundation.
“Eddie liked that idea,” Perry said. “Eddie also emphasized kids who may not be straight students, but who may have struggled to get good grades and have good character. I know the selection committee made some good job with that, without weeding out the straight students.”
Perry grew up in the same NE Canton neighborhood as the original five members of the O’Jays: Levert, Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles.
“We played football together at Cook Park,” he said.
Perry said he watched the group practice at Powell’s mother’s home in Berger Place NE. Perry lived on Ninth Street NE.
“I was friends with Andrew Levert, Eddie’s younger brother, who passed away. We had a singing group, but we never got through,” he said with a laugh.
This year marks Phoenix Lee’s second O’Jay Fellowship.
“I look forward to applying every year,” she said. “I pay my school expenses out of pocket, so it’s been a big blessing.”
To learn more, call the foundation at 330-454-3426 or visit https://www.starkcf.org/for-grantees/for-students/overview
Contact Charita at 330-580-8313 or [email protected]
On Twitter: @cgoshayREP