Salisbury couple reaches scholarship goal for nonprofit

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 13, 2019

SALISBURY — This year, Alex Clark and Alisha Byrd-Clark donated over $3,000 worth of scholarships through their nonprofits Gemstones and COMPASS Leadership Academy and Melanated GENIUS.

That’s just part of a $10,000 goal from 2015-2019 that Gemstones and COMPASS Leadership Academy set for itself after it was founded by Clark and Byrd-Clark in 2015. Gemstones Academy offers its service to girls and young women. COMPASS is offered to boys and young men.

“We expose them to politics, economics and business,” Clark said. “We develop a working rapport with each child and get to know them and their interests. We want them to be comfortable enough to tell us about their home life. We also speak one-on-one with parents.”

Since awarding scholarships, Clark and Byrd-Clark have been able to provide funding for 12 high school students, with their first recipient being Halle “Tia” Cowan, who currently attends NC A&T State University and plans to graduate this May.

The most recent scholarship recipients include Kiera Cherry, Tamia Brown and Paige Ellis.

Brown currently attends Winston-Salem State University, majoring in nutrition, and was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

Ellis, who graduated from East Rowan High School, currently attends Forsyth Tech and was awarded a $500 scholarship.

Cherry is a Salisbury High School graduate who attends the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has served as president of Gemstones and was nominated for the Gemstone of the Year award twice.

She received a $1,000 scholarship through the nonprofit and is majoring in biomedical engineering.

Cherry plans to utilize funds provided through the scholarship to study abroad next summer and spoke about her goals in a phone interview with the Post.

“I wouldn’t mind venturing out into Latin America, but I’m not for sure where I would like to study just yet,” she said.

Cherry said she was inspired to to pursue a degree in biomedical engineering as a result of Clark’s story. Clark suffers from ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, and was diagnosed with the disease in 2016. It affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord as well as motor functions and eventually a person’s ability to speak, eat and breathe.

Clark started a clothing line called Melanated Genius and said he added scholarships to help inspire the next generation to attend college in 2016.

“I’ve accepted where I am at, but this doesn’t stop me from contributing to someone else’s life,” Clark said. “You can’t let anything stop you from fulfilling your purpose.”

Clark said he is committed to his nonprofit work and working with youth for as long as he can.

“I know what my body looks like but my spirit is stronger than one could ever imagine,” he said.

COMPASS scholarship recipients include Sean Ingram, who attends N.C. State University and was awarded a $300 scholarship, as well as Desiree Ellis, who graduated from North Rowan High School and attends N.C. A&T State University. Ellis was awarded a $300 scholarship, too.

Byrd-Clark said the mission of Gemstones and COMPASS Leadership Academy is to empower youth by providing them with the skillset to maximize their full potential by unwrapping their hidden gifts, talents and abilities with a COMPASS. Because of their work, Byrd-Clark and Clark were honored as the 2019 Key to the City recipients by then-Mayor Al Heggins.

Their goals and planned events for 2020 include the Alex Clark Chess Club, the Melanated Genius Empowerment Conference, the Uniquely Beautiful Conference for all and the fifth-annual Black Tie Scholarship Gala.

Veleria Levy, a single mother whose son Joseph has participated in COMPASS, said the program has been beneficial for her son.

“It’s nice for him to see a group of African-American men and people who look like him that have his best interest at heart,” she said.

Levy said the nonprofit has helped her son to love himself for who he truly is.

She said that through the help of the nonprofit, her son was motivated to create his own business called “The Joseph Effect,” which aims to educate others about things such as purchasing stock and teaches teens about investments and finances.