“I find peace in helping others”
That is the line in Oceanside High School senior Justin Hernandez’s application essay to the Say Their Names Association’s United for Change Memorial Scholarship that deeply resonated with the board and ultimately influenced them to select him as a 2022 recipient.
“That is the most beautiful heartfelt sentiment and when we saw that, it really resonated with us,” Say Their Names President and retired School No. 2 Principal Tom Capone said in his speech introducing Hernandez at a ceremony at the Oceanside Schoolhouse Green June 9. “Please don’t ever lose that and take it with you next year and forever in your life. Could you imagine what this world would be like if everybody was able to feel that sense of peace by helping somebody else and that is one of the reasons why we couldn’t wait to meet you.”
The Say Their Names Association was founded in 2020 shortly after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and seeks to honor their memories, along with all people of color, by awarding scholarships to Long Island students of color who are role models in their communities.
“This scholarship captures the essence of what we believe in, which is that everyone who lives in the community should aspire to bring about positive change, and that’s what we look for in each of the recipients of the award,” Capone said. “They demonstrate that to us in the essays that they submit to us and letters of recommendation written by teachers, principals and members of community and that captures the essence of they have done to garner consideration on our part.”
Hernandez is of both Jamaican and Mexican descent and is a relatively new resident of Oceanside, having moved to the hamlet two years ago but has already found his niche in the community.
“Just being in this area has been inspiring because it’s surrounded with great people,” Hernandez said. “I hope I can return the favor and mentor others and set good example for new generation.”
He does that through his involvement in several school activities, including the AP government economics mentoring program.
“Every fourth day, we get training for mentoring freshmen and the fifth day we do a bunch of activities with them,” Hernandez said. “They just got into high school and don’t know anything about it so we teach them the ins and outs.”
He is also involved in the Sources of Strength Club.
“It’s a school run event where we promote mental health and suicide prevention and I’ve done several ‘P.S., I love you” days with them,” Hernandez said.
He added that he also works waiting tables at school sponsored dinners, most recently a mother daughter dinner dance.
Next year, Hernandez will attend Nassau Community College to study business administration with the hopes of one day opening a nonprofit focused on mental health.
“Having my own nonprofit locally here will help me to help others that in a more direct channel,” Hernandez said. “It’s going to be a mental health nonprofit; we’ve all heard of the shooting in Uvalde so I hope to use it to really push the idea of improving mental health.”
He also looks forward to becoming involved in business-related extracurricular activities at Nassau.
“I’m looking into the Make a Difference Club at Nassau,” Hernandez said. “I’m told they go to local nonprofits and help in achieving a mission of wellness so I’d love to work in that and other business-related clubs. While I plan to major in business administration I also want to take economics and finance classes so I can learn how to run a business well and then hopefully after Nassau, attend a good business school.”
For him being tasked with honoring the memories of Floyd and Taylor is a hefty responsibility but one he hopes to use as a vehicle for change.
“I think those two people serve as very important figures in our lives and its very unfortunate what happened to them,” Hernandez said “But I will work to carry their legacy of living a good life and pushing the message of equality and helping the community and pushing for change because this scholarship is called the United for Change scholarship. I don’t believe in sitting around waiting for things to happen, you need to make them happen.”
Hernandez said he has already worked in overcome challenges in his personal life.
“In my essay, I wrote about challenges in my life,” Hernandez said. “I spoke about my mother and how she went through chemotherapy and how people use challenges to get stronger and setting a good example and helping others.”
In addition, students from Lynbrook, Baldwin, West Hempstead, East Rockaway, Uniondale and Roosevelt were recipients of the 2022 scholarship.