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DOWNTOWN : Scholarship Fund Marks Anniversary


The 10-year anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots was approaching and Ivan J. Houston and other board members of his successful African American life insurance company wanted to make a contribution to the community. Looking at the businesses they dealt with, they realized there were few faces of color.

"They found there weren't enough minorities in middle and upper management in companies," said Houston's son, Ivan A. Houston. "It was because of the lack of minorities getting a quality education. They decided to financially assist these students to finish their education."

To accomplish that goal, the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co. founded the nonprofit, privately funded Golden State Minority Foundation in 1974, said Houston, foundation president. While raising money for the scholarships was slow at first (the foundation offered two $1,000 scholarships in 1976), the agency has since given $2.5 million in scholarships and grants to 2,000 high-achieving but needy minority students.

The Downtown-based foundation, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary, will host a dinner Wednesday at the Hotel Inter-Continental to award 30 scholarships of $2,000 and $2,500 to Los Angeles-area students.

The foundation focuses on students studying business and business-related fields, but some corporate sponsors also fund scholarships in specific majors such as engineering and real estate.

Recipients of the scholarships include students that have gone on to found a brokerage firm, become a member of the U.S. diplomatic corps and work as a vice president of a television production company, Houston said.

College students chosen are usually in at least their junior year. Often, minorities start college only to quit when their money runs out, Houston said.

"If the student has made it that far it seems the only thing that is keeping them from completing school is financial reasons," said Houston, whose grandfather founded the life insurance company on Central Avenue in 1925, when it was still illegal to sell life insurance to blacks.

Houston, 41, joined the foundation eight years ago, leaving a career as a computer engineer. Ivan J. Houston is chairman of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Co.

This year, Kieshia Fykes, a 24-year-old USC graduate student, will be honored with the Dolores Robinson Scholarship, named after the woman who founded Dolores Robinson Entertainment, a talent management company in Westwood.

Fykes, who is studying public administration, intends to work in the field of city management or public policy analysis because she wants to "be a part of the decision-making process that affects the city and, more directly, the communities."

While Fykes said she has received scholarships in the past, she is particularly pleased about accepting one from the Golden State Minority Foundation.

Said Fykes: "The needs of some minorities, whether socially or economically, are often different than those of students who are not of color. The foundation attempts to recognize that and honor that."

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