Steve Harvey scholarship recipients navigate freshman year

Freshman exploratory major Johnell Parnell received the Steve Harvey Scholarship Award. Parnell is one of eight recipients.

Freshman year of college is an exciting and memorable time for any student. For eight incoming freshmen who received full scholarships to attend Kent State, freshman year has been even more special. 

The “Elite eight,” as the students were called by faculty and staff members, are eight freshmen who received full-ride scholarships to attend the university starting fall 2019. The scholarships, awarded by the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation, cover the students’ tuition and room and board costs for four years. The recipients of these scholarships are Lamont Averett, Zethran Jackson, Mark Jenkins, Jaiden Morales, Johnell Parnell, Kelvon Gibson, Anthony Morris Jr. and Craig Johnson.   

“When I first got the phone call, I didn’t believe it,” said Johnell Parnell, freshman exploratory major. “I ended up finding out it was true, and I ended up calling my mom. She congratulated me while she was crying really hard. I was ecstatic, and I couldn’t wait to get here and get started.”

Freshman pre-medicine biology major Zethran Jackson was also in disbelief when he learned the news. Before the scholarship, Jackson had been unsure of how he would pay for college. 

“It is a dream come true, absolutely. When I got that call and everything went down the way it did, it was just such joy in my heart and my family’s hearts,” Jackson said.      

The scholarships are in memory of Devin Moore, who was a senior at Kent State and member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity when he died in 2017 while playing basketball at the Beverly J. Warren Student Recreation and Wellness Center. Family Feud host and former Kent State student Steve Harvey was also part of this fraternity and was driven to give back following Moore’s sudden death.  

After receiving the scholarships, all eight students had the opportunity to appear on Harvey’s talk show, Steve, and were flown to Los Angeles in May 2019. 

“When we got on the show, it was just amazing,” Parnell said. “At first we were all nervous but then once you really start talking to Steve you start getting comfortable and it becomes second nature, honestly. We were just happy for the blessing.”

Being on the show was not as nerve-racking as expected and talking to Harvey was like talking to an uncle, Jackson said.   

“When we were actually out there, it was like we were a little family just talking,” Jackson said. “Steve Harvey is really calm and gives you advice when you need it. He talks to you fairly, he talks to you like you matter. It’s an experience you never expected to happen.” 

Both Parnell and Jackson participated in Kent State’s TRIO Upward Bound Programs, which aim to prepare students for post-secondary education by helping them overcome social, academic and cultural barriers. There are three programs, all of which strive to increase educational opportunities and decrease obstacles for first-generation, low-income students through comprehensive services.          

Not only did this program prepare Parnell for living away from home — he stayed on Kent State’s campus for three summers — but it also provided him with a clear idea of what college would be like.

“Being in Upward Bound prepared me by turning me into a better leader and ultimately a better man,” Parnell said. “We actually did college homework so I knew what to expect coming in and I knew what to stay focused on.”  

Similarly, Jackson said the program helped him get to college and pushed him to get through times he felt like giving up. As a first-generation college student, Jackson said Upward Bound assisted him with the aspects of college he was unfamiliar with. 

All of the students continue to receive support from the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) to ensure their success. Within DEI is the Male Empowerment Network (M.E.N.), an organization Parnell and Jackson are involved in that focuses on supporting the social, academic, professional and personal development of men of color. Besides offering volunteer opportunities and help with schoolwork, the group also provides students with a place to talk about personal issues and share things they can’t elsewhere, Parnell said. The Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation also pledged $10,000 to assist M.E.N. in its mission.

Beyond the support of these organizations is the support the students have received from staff. Jackson specifically thanks Alfreda Brown, vice president of DEI; Sonya Williams, interim executive director in DEI; and Michael Daniels, interim director of the Student Multicultural Center. Both Jackson and Parnell said they are thankful to Steve Harvey and the university as well. 

The transition to college has been a learning curve filled with new experiences. Teaching himself how to study and manage his time have been the biggest adjustments, Jackson said. Similarly, Parnell said the entire process of becoming an independent adult took time to acclimate to. 

Despite these changes, both Parnell and Jackson have enjoyed their freshman year so far. The variety of new experiences and positivity of those on campus have left Jackson excited to keep learning and for his future at Kent State.     

“I’m excited for what Kent State can really do for me, my education and my life,” Parnell said. “I feel like I got a great opportunity to come here. I feel like I can do anything with this scholarship I was awarded. I can’t wait to see what I turn it into in the future.” 

As for advice for incoming freshmen, both students echoed the need for a balance between work and fun. Jackson also stressed the need to push yourself and not give up.

“It’s only as hard as you make it. It’s really about how hard you’re willing to work,” Jackson said. “Don’t let nobody bring you down. There’s going to be a lot of people that you might see or might talk to that have doubts about you but that’s just a part of life. You just gotta add them to the list, as I call it, the list of people you’ve gotta prove wrong.” 

Abigail Mack is a general assignment reporter. Contact her at [email protected].