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ERASE Racism’s inaugural John Wenzel Scholarship was awarded on June 5 to Central Islip High School senior Toni-Ann Bernard (third from left). (Photo from ERASE Racism)

ERASE Racism Announces Inaugural John Wenzel Scholarship Winner

ERASE Racism is a civil rights organization based in Syosset that aims to expose and address ongoing racial disparities, specifically in public schools, education and housing. According to their website, their vision is to create “Transformed, integrated communities in which no person’s access to opportunity is limited by race or ethnicity.”
The organization recently awarded the Inaugural Winner of its John Wenzel Scholarship to Toni-Ann Bernard, a Senior at Central Islip High School. The scholarship will be annually awarded to a local high school senior who exemplifies ERASE Racism’s mission. The award includes a $1500 scholarship and a new laptop. Bernard was presented with these prizes at ERASE Racism’s Annual Benefit on June 5.
The winner of the scholarship is decided based on written, artistic, or video submissions addressing the question: How does systemic and structural racism impact your ability to access high-quality education and/or pursue your passion?
An excerpt of Toni-Ann Bernard’s winning essay includes:
“Spending my elementary years in an underserved community like the Bronx, I bore witness to the profound impact that systematic and structural racism had on ability to access high quality education and pursue their passions. While my community was filled with loving and comforting members of different backgrounds, our schools neglected to provide students with a similar safe space. Even as a kid, it was clear to me that my predominantly black elementary school, PS. 536, was not given the same resources or opportunities that neighboring students were receiving. This is one of the many barriers that systemic racism creates in order to hold underprivileged youth back in critical areas in their lives. ….
“Leaving my underfunded public school for a private school that I had an academic scholarship for showed me just how much of an effect the system has on students. I watched as my wealthy Catholic school peers received a plethora of opportunities and scholarships while working half as hard as the kids that I grew up with at PS. 536. The support system that I found at this school was incredible, but I couldn’t help but question why a similar system wasn’t in place at public schools. ….
“My awareness of the disparities in resources between communities motivated me to become a more active member of my community. …. In my new community in Long Island, I made it my goal to get out into my community, taking internships to work with summer camp students, becoming the captain of my school’s mock trial team, and volunteering for a club that builds Future Business Leaders. I thought that being a young black female leader in my community would be a good motivator for those who were younger than me.”
The John Wenzel Scholarship is funded by a grant from the Rauch Foundation in memory of the Foundation’s board member John Wenzel. Wenzel was a resident of Sea Cliff, Long Island for more than 50 years, and was an active member of ERASE Racism’s Advisory Committee until his death in 2023.
ERASE Racism achieves its goals through research, public education, policy advocacy, legal action and civic engagement. Since its founding in 2001, the organization has strengthened fair housing laws in both Nassau and Suffolk counties and successfully created an active community.
For more information on ERASE Racism’s mission, visit www.eraseracismny.org.

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