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October 15, 2021

Gemma Abels Scholarship available for local high school seniors

Two local nonprofits that serve South County are partnering for a college scholarship program in honor of local educator, activist and labor organizer Gemma Abels.

The Edward Boss Prado Foundation and Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ) South County will present two $2,500 scholarships to local high school students graduating in either 2021 or 2022. Students in South County whose families earn less than $100,000 in annual income are eligible to apply for the competitive scholarship.

Abels was a longtime educator in Morgan Hill Unified School District, where she worked as an English teacher. She represented her fellow teachers locally and throughout the state as a former president of the Morgan Hill Federation of Teachers, and vice president of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), according to the CFT website.

Gemma Abels

She died Oct. 12 after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer.

“Gemma represented the best of what a union leader can be—a fierce fighter for her members, her students, and her community,” reads an obituary for Abels on the CFT website.

She was honored with the CFT’s Women in Education Award in 2016.

Abels was also a founder of SURJ County, which was created in 2017 to organize people to support racial justice. Her wealth of knowledge and experience about the local community and organizing in general were key to helping SURJ members connect with other organizations in Morgan Hill.

She was instrumental in raising funds for local nonprofits such as the Learning and Loving Education Center, and in raising awareness of social justice issues that affect people all over the world, including in Morgan Hill.

“Gemma Abels led her life in commitment to others with her heart as her guide,” said Katie McGinty-Ruiz, another founding member of SURJ South County. “She was a force for all that is kind and just in the world. Her activism and advocacy showed each person that had the honor of knowing her how to show up for our communities with fierce love, presence and a strong sense of justice.”

A press release from SURJ adds, “Gemma Abels embodied many values, including but not limited to: striving for equity, amplifying marginalized voices, a love of learning and commitment to the community.”

To apply for the Gemma Abels Scholarship, students should select a piece of media that speaks to how their education will advance those values into the world. This could be a piece of artwork, piece of writing, video, podcast or another option.

Scholarship applicants are also asked to answer two questions: “Tell us about a challenge you’ve faced in your life” and “What difference would this scholarship mean to you and your family?”

Applicants of any immigration or citizenship status are invited to apply for the Gemma Abels Scholarship.

The application deadline is Sept. 7.

Scholarship winners will be announced at the third annual virtual Youth Conference on Race & Social Justice Sept. 25.

To apply, send attachments or links to [email protected], with the subject “Gemma Abels Scholarship application.”

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