A new scholarship currently offered through the City of San Fernando is motivated by the need for action.
This scholarship is given in the name of Gabriel Fernandez, an 8-year-old boy who died as a result of brutal abuse, it’s believed, by the hands of those who should have protected him — his mother and live-in boyfriend, both of whom are in jail and accused of murder.
Those eligible to apply for the $1,000 scholarships must be college-bound high school seniors, current full-time community college students, or four-year university students.
The applicant does not need to attend a school in the City of San Fernando, but should reside in Los Angeles county. Students will be required to submit an essay that includes a concern for social justice. The deadline to apply for the scholarship is Feb. 12.
Half of the funding came from a donation from the Latino Water Coalition Foundation, and the other half from money raised by San Fernando Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin.
Ballin said she was encouraged to start the scholarship after speaking to various individuals, and meeting with Emily Carranza, a cousin of the the child.
“I was so distraught and upset, I agreed that we needed to do something to make a difference,” said Ballin, as to what prompted her raise the funds for the Gabriel Fernandez Scholarship. Ballin is currently a member of the Latino Water Coalition.
While this is the first year the scholarship is offered, the goal is to raise more money to offer in the scholarship each year.
The Murder Of Gabriel Fernandez
Fernandez was found barely breathing in his mother’s Palmdale apartment on May 22, 2013, and died just two days later.
An investigation revealed Gabriel was tortured. He was beaten with a baseball bat, which knocked out his teeth. He was attacked with pepper spray and a BB gun. He was whipped with the metal part of a belt over an eight-month period after he left the care of his grandparents and lived with his mother, Pearl Fernandez and her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre.
Pearl Fernandez and Aguirre were both arrested. They were charged with capital murder in Gabriel’s death on May 28, 2013. They remain behind bars and their next scheduled court appearance is Feb. 10. Pearl Fernandez is reportedly on suicide watch.
Late last year, she had agreed on a plea deal that would have meant life in prison without the possibility of parole, but Aguirre refused. He claims he’s not guilty and is apparently ready to go to trial to try to prove his innocence, said Emily Carranza, Gabriel’s cousin.
Carranza is the main force behind the website “Gabriel’s Justice,” which was established soon after his death to bring awareness to his case and the “broken system” that failed to rescue him.
“This year will mark three years since he was killed, and we still don’t have justice for him,” Carranza said. “He would have turned 11-years-old this year.”
Gabriel’s death sparked protests throughout the county, calling on officials to reform the Dept. of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which had failed to protect the child. Gabriel’s teacher had alerted social workers to the wounds, bruises and black eyes he had. But no action was taken to remove him from the home that delivered regular beatings, and a mother that is reported to have berated him and ordered Gabriel to stay in a cupboard.
Four social workers were later discharged in connection with the case, and a blue-ribbon panel commissioned by the county Board of Supervisors released a scathing report recommending changes on the way the county handles abused children.
Gabriel’s maternal grandfather has filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the Department of Children and Family Services.
Students applying for the Gabriel Fernandez Scholarship must write an essay, 1,000 words or less, on one of the three criteria consisting of:
• A social justice concern that you share (either local or global). Describe the urgency of the issue and what can be done to address it.
• A tradition whether it be cultural, religious or just something that your family developed. Describe the importance of tradition and give an example of your most prized personal tradition and why.
• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from a childhood state of mind to a mature/responsible “adult” within your culture, community, family or even to yourself.
The committee will select two winning entries.
Carranza said she was happy that Gabriel’s name is remembered in this way.
“If somebody can benefit from this scholarship and can go in the field of social work and make a change in policy that can help a child, that’s something that’s going to make a difference,” she said.
Since its inception, the “Gabriel’s Justice” website has become an organizing tool to encourage change at DCFS. The online site has been a place where parents and caregivers can share their grievances in dealing with the county agency.
“We try to advise them where to go and the steps necessary to take. We can’t give them legal advice. We’re just trying to bring awareness,” Carranza said.
For Carranza, the most important thing is to bring change to DCFS. One change she proposes is doing away with interviewing a child in front of their parent or abuser.
For Ballin, the most important thing the scholarship does — besides giving a student support in reaching their educational goals — is to keep the boy’s memory alive.
“His life has to have value,” Ballin said. “If this scholarship helps to support a student who is interested in making a difference, and the announcement of this scholarship encourages awareness and saves a child because someone calls in to report abuse, I feel really good about it.”Diana Martinez contributed to this story.
For information about the Gabriel Fernandez Scholarship, visit http://www.ci.san-fernando.ca.us/scholarship/, or call (818) 898-1204, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Scholarship Opportunities
Along with the Gabriel Fernandez Scholarships, The City of San Fernando and the San Fernando Education Commission, in partnership with the California Latino Water Coalition Foundation and Republic Services. Inc., are offering other scholarship opportunities:
Latino Water Coalition Foundation Scholarship:
Four (4) $500 scholarships open to students in grades 6-8 with at least one parent/guardian that resides in the City of San Fernando or students in grades 6-8 attending a school in the City of San Fernando.
Deadline: Friday, February 12, 2016
Republic Services Annual Cesar Chávez Scholarship:
Two (2) $1,000 scholarships open to graduating college-bound high school seniors. Applicants must be permanent residents of the City of San Fernando. Scholarships are non-merit based and need blind.
Deadline: Friday, February 26, 2016
For more information, call (818) 898-1204 or email email@example.com.
Source: The City of San Fernando