CHARLOTTE – Carolina Panthers wide receiver Brandon Zylstra saw his home state of Minnesota become the epicenter of George Floyd’s death in the summer of 2020. 

After Floyd’s death, Brandon decided to use his platform and voice to make an impact in any way that he could. He asked his community and network to join him in creating The Road Less Traveled Scholarship for ambitious Black students who have overcome adversity.

What started as a $500 scholarship grew to $12,000, with his fundraising efforts quickly turning the scholarship into the award with the most independent contributions on Bold.org. The crowdfunded scholarship gained traction immediately, with 86 donors joining him. 

Both scholarship winners, Emmalina Simonis and Zaniya Taylor, wrote about the difficulties they faced and witnessed as children in their application essays. They wrote how their experiences and circumstances have impacted their long-term goals. 

Zaniya, who is from Denver, Colorado, wrote about witnessing injustice while growing up. She hopes to start a nonprofit  to tackle world issues. 

Emmalina, of Orlando, Florida, wrote about her goal of starting a marketing firm to promote minority-owned businesses and then using her profits to help rebuild her birth country, Haiti.

"Reading all of these essays has me hopeful for the future," Brandon said. "The students have big dreams to change many peoples’ lives.”

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