Introducing the Inaugural Class of Ben’s Original™ Seat at the Table™ Fund Scholars

The Seat at the Table™ Fund provides recipients with scholarships of up to $25,000 per year to pursue education in the food industry. Hear from this year’s inspiring winners in their own words.

Representation of underserved communities is an essential piece in creating the world we want tomorrow. Unfortunately, the food service industry continues to see long-standing inequities with only 7% of Black employees occupying positions in management, and approximately 84% of Black workers in the food industry making less than $30,000 a year according to McKinsey & Company.

These significant wage and opportunity gaps must be addressed. By taking action and paving the way for diverse voices, we are contributing to making space for inclusivity and equity, not only here at Mars, but around the world.

Providing Opportunities to Underserved Communities

In 2020, Mars Food’s Ben’s Original announced a new scholarship fund — the Seat at the Table Fund — to give people from underserved communities around the world who are interested in careers in the food industry the education and mentorship opportunities they deserve. Created in partnership with the National Urban League and United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the US version of this scholarship supports Black students interested in food industry careers. The five-year, $2 million commitment by the brand is a clear demonstration of how we are actioning our mission to create opportunities that offer everyone a seat at the table.

We recently announced our first class of Seat at the Table scholarship recipients in the U.S., eight up-and-coming leaders from across the country who are enrolled in accredited Bachelor’s degree programs to further their culinary careers.

We asked each of the recipients to share what a “seat at the table” means to them and what they’re setting out to achieve in the food industry. Below are excerpts from their inspiring responses, all of which make me incredibly proud to be part of their journey.

Alton Chambers

Home state: Mississippi

University: Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University

“Having a seat at the table is having those already there see me as more than just the diversity and inclusion hire sitting amongst them. The value of having a seat at the table further enables me to focus on networking with other industry professionals and make myself available to new career opportunities and avenues while sharing my perspectives and appreciating the perspectives of those who succeeded before me.”

“My long-range professional goal is to be a product developer and research chef who utilizes the knowledge of the functional benefits of food to develop food products that are not only delicious, but also cater to a wide audience of consumers seeking good-tasting, healthier foods.”

Ashley Bostic

Home state: Virginia

University: Howard University

“Having a seat at the table means developing relationships, obtaining access to new tools, and new power to implement shared strategies for making an impact on our community in collaboration and partnership with others who are also seated at the table and are making a difference.

“While learning and gaining knowledge in the nutrition major, I would learn how to make proper nutrition more accessible to the low-income areas around the world. People with poor nutrition often have larger medical issues in their lives, and I just want to help make a difference in people’s lives by making them aware of all their options and nutrition education is one way to do that.”

E’Leric Ivey

Home state: Florida

University: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

“As an underrepresented African American male, having a seat at the table means being enabled to seek out new opportunities. I think of my family, my grandfather and uncles, and the opportunities in front of me — something they did not have in their lives as farmers in a rural community. For me, growing up on our small family farm, I quickly realized first-hand the importance of food and agriculture and with this seat at the table, I feel even more empowered to seek new opportunities and strive to be successful and make my family proud.

“My career goal is public service and giving back especially to our small rural community — it’s how my family raised me and something I want to continue to do. Completing college and earning a doctoral degree will allow me to advance my skill of agriculture to a higher level impacting more people.”

Jakel Z. Franks

Home state: Texas

University: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, Greensboro

“My location at the table proves my hard work and dedication to the world.

“I aspire to become a farmer. Currently, we live in unprecedented times through which the planet is experiencing a pandemic, racial injustices, threats to wildlife, and a depletion in meals. The stance our society is taking in response to these issues is widening social and economic divisions. I believe in a society where socioeconomic status should be equal amongst its members. My solution and passion are to help alleviate this inequality by starting a nonprofit organization targeting the lower and middle class.”

Stephanie Kinchen

Home state: North Carolina

University: North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University

“For me, having a seat at the table in the food services industry means that I’ll be able to be a part of a team that cares about the future of food and how it affects people just as much as I do. At this table, I’ll be able to represent black women in a field that is so important but often overlooked and that not many people think about going into when they choose their college majors.

“Healthy is so often associated with food being bland and tasteless, but in my health journey I found that the options of what can be healthy and delicious are endless! I soon hope to spread this information by becoming a dietician and even using my Food Science degree in other fields of the food industry such as inspection and processing.”

Taylor Banks

Home state: New York

University: Johnson & Wales, Providence

“If I had the opportunity to ‘have a seat at the table’ in the baking industry, it would be the biggest validation of my entire career. I would have the opportunity to set an example for my siblings and teach them that no matter what happens in life, things will always get better. Besides my siblings, ‘having a seat at the table’ would be an inspiration for so many other African American girls that have struggles in life.

“I think it is so important that in life you are working the job that you love, not just the one that gives you a paycheck. All my experiences throughout my life have helped me realize that the person I am when I’m cooking is the real me, the best version of myself.”

Tiye Anthony-Elwin

Home state: Florida

University: Johnson & Wales, Charlotte

“Having a seat at the table, the boardroom or the banquet is an opportunity to become a game changer.

“One of my long-term goals in life is to own a bakery. It has always been my dream to own a bakery where I can incorporate techniques and different flavors that I grew up loving during my time in the Caribbean.”

Victoria Wooten

Home state: Texas

University: Johnson & Wales, Charlotte

“I think ‘having a seat at the table’ is about welcoming others to join us. President Barack Obama said, ‘once you are involved, you shouldn’t just fight for a seat at the table but a seat at the head of the table.’ The table symbolizes mentorship, fellowship, and leadership that leads to success in this industry and community with others.

“I would love to start my own catering business where I can serve while having an impact on others’ most memorable moments in life. My fondest memories of life are when I am eating or creating food with others. There is just something really special about the power of food when it comes to creating memories that leave indelible impressions on us.”

These young leaders of tomorrow truly exemplify their passion for the full spectrum of the food industry and the impact they would like to make on society through their “seat at the table”. We are proud to award them an opportunity to achieve an education to do just that.

We’re also excited to bring the Seat at the Table Fund to life in Canada this year with the goal of helping advance diversity and representation across Canada’s culinary landscape. In the Canadian expansion of the program, Ben’s Original will partner with four of the top culinary programs across Canada to provide $200,000 of funding over two years to students who identify as Black, Indigenous or Persons of Colour to help them successfully complete their education. More can be found here.

About the Ben’s Original Seat at the Table Fund Scholarship

Ben’s Original U.S. Seat at the Table Fund Scholarship, created in partnership with the National Urban League and United Negro College Fund, is a renewable, needs-based scholarship that covers education-related expenses up to $25,000 per scholarship, per year, toward the completion of either a food science or culinary arts certificate or Associate or Bachelor’s degree. In addition to education-related expenses, scholarship recipients are supported by the National Urban League to help them successfully complete their education and prepare for and secure a rewarding career. Applications will reopen again in the spring. More information can be found on UNCF’s website here.

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