Four African American womenwho have forged successful careers in the entertainment industry — Felicia D.Henderson, Gina Prince‑Bythewood, SaraFinney-Johnson and Mara Brock Akil — have teamed upto help students in UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television to do thesame. With a $50,000 endowment, they have created the Four Sisters Scholarshipin Screenwriting, Directing and Animation to support students doing projectsthat portray the African American experience.
"Ifeel that I've been incredibly blessed to have had the career I've had, andthis is still only the beginning for me," said Henderson, who received herM.F.A. from UCLA in 2004 and who chaired the scholarship selection process. "Abig part of my success is directly related to what I learned in UCLA'sscreenwriting program about telling stories."
Henderson is the creator andco-executive producer of Showtime's "Soul Food: The Series." She was a writeron the series "The Parkers," "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air"and "Family Matters," and she worked as a writer and producer on "Moesha,""Sister, Sister" and "Movie Star."
"Iwant to give back to the program that gave me so much," Henderson said. "I wantto reach back and help students who need it so they can keep their dreamsalive."
The first winner of thescholarship is Sylvia Terry (Los Angeles), a graduate student in the directingprogram.
"I feel extremely blessedto be the recipient of the first Four Sisters Scholarship," Terry said. "Iadmire the four women who created this award, so to receive their endorsementis an honor."
Thefoursome's decision to focus their support on students who explore the AfricanAmerican experience stemmed from the challenges they each have faced in findingsuch support. While African Americans watch more televisionthan any other group, African Americans held only 83 of the 1,334 writing jobsat CBS, NBC, ABC, UPN, Fox and the WB during the 2001 prime-time season,according to a report by the Writer's Guild of America, West.
"Iam extremely pleased that these four stellar professionals have decided tosupport our students," said Robert Rosen, dean of the UCLA School of Theater,Film and Television. "We are very grateful for their generosity and commitmentto UCLA."
"Wewould also like to encourage students, no matter what their ethnicities, toinclude people of color in their storytelling in significant ways," Hendersonsaid.
Scholarship co-founderPrince-Bythewood, who graduated from UCLA with a B.A.in film in 1991, has worked extensively in the film industry. Listed among hermany credits are producer of "Biker Boyz" anddirector and screenwriter of "Love and Basketball."
Finney-Johnson is a co-creator and executiveproducer of the NBC-TV series "The Parkers" and co-creator of "Moesha." Shepreviously was a writer in the long-running sitcoms "Family Matters" and"Married With Children." A graduate of the University of Southern California,she also is an accomplished playwright, author of the critically acclaimed play"Mens." An evening of her one-act plays ran recentlyat the Zephyr Theater in Los Angeles.
Akil is the creator of UPN's "Girlfriends" andco-creator of "Moesha" and "The Parkers." Shortly after graduating fromNorthwestern University, she began her career as a writer on Fox's "SouthCentral." She also served as producer on the WB Network's "The Jamie FoxxShow."
"UCLAfilm school helped me to re-create myself," Henderson said. "Maybe ourscholarship will help someone else do the same."