UM Graduate chosen as 2023 Marshall Scholar
Published 1:32 pm Monday, December 11, 2023
Jilkiah Bryant hopes to bring knowledge earned back to Mississippi
By Clara Turnage
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Bryant, a 2023 graduate with a degree in public health and health sciences, plans to spend the next two years studying community health at Sheffield University in England.
“Having an opportunity to have an educational experience that I couldn’t get in the U.S. will transform the way I think about health care and community change,” Bryant said. “Up until this part of my journey, I’ve had a lot of questions and ideas.
“With this program, I think I’ll be able to answer a lot of those questions and find better questions to ask.”
Created by the British Parliament in 1953, the Marshall Scholarship funds two years of American students’ study toward master’s degrees of their choosing in the United Kingdom.
Through the scholarship, the Macon native will pursue two master’s degrees: a master of public health in international development and a master of science in health economics and decision modeling.
The Marshall is among the world’s most prestigious and competitive scholarship programs, said Vivian Ibrahim, director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement.
“What distinguishes Jilkiah is she has incredible drive,” Ibrahim said. “She wants to bring what she’s learning back to the state and make change here.
“She doesn’t want to be a part of the brain drain; she really wants to make a difference.”
During her time at Ole Miss, Bryant won a prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship in 2022 and was a Catalyzing Entrepreneurship and Economic Development Scholar, Luckyday Scholar and a Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors Scholar and was selected for the Hall of Fame.
She also coordinated health fairs in rural Mississippi in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic and founded Project Powerful, an organization that pairs high school students with volunteer opportunities across the state.
“I found that throughout every period of my life, I’ve had these mentors who have taken a stake in my development and without them, there would be no me,” Bryant said. “Those opportunities to connect and find places to grow my interest were really pivotal in my development.”
Many of those mentorships began back in Noxubee County, such as Teresa Hughes’ AJOY: A Journey of Our Youth, an education and empowerment group for young women.
“I don’t think I realized how profound of an impact that had on me,” Bryant said. “It validated our lived experience and for me that was profound because that’s what I want to do, in a way; I want to validate people’s lived experiences and uplift them.
“I got that first inkling of that in my home community.”
Hughes, who retired in 2009 after 28 years of teaching elementary school in Noxubee County, said she remembers Bryant as a quiet, precocious child with a heart for education.
“I always remember her as having a zeal for learning and a strong sense of initiative,” Hughes said. “She’s a self-motivated go-getter.”
Hughes and Bryant stayed in touch when Bryant moved first to the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and, later, to Ole Miss. The purpose of AJOY is to raise up young women like Bryant to help them see that they can succeed, Hughes said.
“It’s always been my dream to help youth in my county,” she said. “I wanted to nurture and guide them and that’s how AJOY was born.
“Jilkiah, she has blossomed into a fine young lady. I’m proud of her and all the others. I think I have a few more Jilkiahs coming along.”
Bryant said she hopes to bring what she learns through her Marshall Scholarship back to rural Mississippi counties, where community health is essential to improving the quality of life of citizens.
“I always say that I am a product of opportunity in the way I was raised and my background,” Bryant said. “I think that one of the biggest contributors to who I am is my environment, my community and the way I was raised.
“I think that’s why I really want to work on the community level. I recognize the power that communities can hold in shaping who you are and, more importantly, who you choose to become.”