Crossroad Youth Named Marian Spencer Scholars

On January 24, 2024, Eric Castleberry-Kennedy Jr., an 18-year-old senior at Taft High School, walked with his class to the library center. Drums were playing as the dance team performed. As he stood in front of his classmates, Eric was stunned to discover the celebration was for him. Along with nine other Cincinnati Public School students, Eric was awarded a Marian Spencer Scholarship to the University of Cincinnati.

Eric Kennedy holding his Marian Spencer scholarship award

“I wanted to cry so bad,” says Eric, who applied for the scholarship last fall. The scholarship provides a full ride to UC, including tuition, housing and meals in the Marian Spencer Hall. At UC, the Marian Spencer scholars will live on their own floor.

“That’s the most exciting part to me,” says Eric. “It will be nice to be with other kids who care about academics as much as I do.”
That wasn’t always the case. Eric confides that in 9th grade, he earned straight Fs. It was the start of the Covid pandemic and his grades suffered during the year he spent at home on remote learning. But after the pandemic, he got serious about school.

Eric explains that his dad, Eric Castleberry-Kennedy Sr., played a huge role in his attitude shift. “If it wasn’t for my dad being on me to do my homework, getting me to summer school to catch up on classes when school went virtual, I wouldn’t have done the work. Then, finally, I started to think, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe my grades are terrible. I knew I had to grow up.”

Eric Sr. just happens to be the security officer at Crossroad’s Over-the-Rhine office. “I did as much as I could for my kids. But Eric Jr. didn’t really get it until he saw me walk the walk. He saw me taking the bus on days when we were snowed it to get to work. My kids are my superpower. I do it for them.”

Zamir Frazier receiving his Marian Spencer scholarship award

The Marian Spencer connection to Crossroad doesn’t end there. Zamir Frazier, a longtime Crossroad patient, was also selected for the highly competitive Marian Spencer Scholarship to UC. A senior at Riverview East Academy, he learned he had won on January 22, when he and his class gathered for a school assembly. He says, “The band was there. The cheerleaders were there. My family was there.” He continues, “I was in shock. I was definitely relieved. I didn’t think I was going to get it.”

Zamir plans to major in business at UC. After that, he’s set his sights on culinary school. At 17, he already has his future mapped out. “I’ll work as a head chef, and then open my own restaurant. I’ve always liked to cook. I even made my family’s Thanksgiving dinner.”

Before 9th grade, Zamir says he was a good enough student but lacked motivation. Then, after Covid, everything changed for him. He took things more seriously. “I decided to ask a lot of questions in class,” he says. “It makes you smarter.” He also credits his 9th grade teacher Hollie Wimmers for encouraging him. “She helped me get all As.”

The Marian Spencer scholarship comes with some exciting extras. When asked what was most thrilling about winning the award, Zamir says, “Definitely the trip to Tanzania. We’ll be there for two weeks.”

Both Eric and Zamir are grateful to Marian Spencer and the legacy she left behind. Zamir says, “I’m really thankful there’s an award that appreciates kids. It’s based on what you do for your community.”

What would Eric say to Marian Spencer if he could? “Thank you for giving me this opportunity. Not a lot of people like me get to go to college with everything paid for. Without a scholarship like this, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college.”

About the Marian Spencer Scholarship Program
The University of Cincinnati partners with Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) to offer the Marian Spencer Scholarship Program, exclusively granting CPS students the opportunity to pursue their dreams of higher education without any barriers. Selected scholars carry on the legacy of Marian Spencer, a beloved UC alumna and former vice mayor of the Cincinnati City Council who fought fearlessly for civil rights and racial justice.