In the spring of 2022, Anaya Cherry realized a dream when she graduated from Drexel University with a degree in entertainment and arts management. But more than a celebrated accomplishment, it was a full circle moment for Anaya, as her new alma mater was the same place she spent countless Saturdays as a Steppingstone Scholar, a connection that feels more significant now than ever.
“Steppingstone Scholars gave me the confidence to go out into the world and be my best self,” she says. “I believe having that foundation fueled my success.”
Anaya, who was introduced to Steppingstone by an elementary school teacher, joined the program at 10 years old. She spent summers at Penn Charter School, immersing herself in the academic enrichment the program provided, including language and history topics which weren’t covered during the regular school year. As a Scholar, Anaya attended high school fairs where she was exposed to many of the city’s independent schools, eventually landing on her dream school: The Episcopal Academy.
“When I met the representative from Episcopal, she had an energy and a confidence that I could feel — I could imagine what being part of that community was like, and I wanted that,” says Anaya.
With support from Steppingstone faculty, staff, and alumni, Anaya enrolled at Episcopal in 2014, an opportunity which laid the groundwork for a series of life-changing experiences.
“My trajectory has been based on defining moments,” says Anaya. “Having the backing of a program like Steppingstone helped me get into Episcopal, where I thrived as a student leader, and gave me the resources to make important decisions about my college career.”
In the end, following her 2018 graduation from Episcopal Academy, those decisions led Anaya to Drexel University, where she pursued her passion for entertainment and the arts. While there, Anaya was named a Liberty Scholar — a prestigious full-tuition scholarship awarded to a select number of Philadelphia students — and thrived as an active undergraduate student. She served as part of the Black Student Union, a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc , and as a mentor for the THRIVE: Students of Color Early Move-in Empowerment Retreat program, among several other extracurricular activities, work, and internships experience at companies like ESM Productions, REC Philly, and Comcast NBCUniversal. In fact, Anaya was selected to deliver the commencement speech at her home college, the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in 2022, a key milestone which she traces back to her Steppingstone roots.
“My biggest takeaway from Steppingstone Scholars was that I belong in the room,” she says. “Often times, it can feel like there are places and opportunities that aren’t accessible for people with backgrounds like mine. Even though it might feel like those opportunities are only afforded to certain groups of people, Steppingstone helped me prove it’s still possible.”
Now, Anaya, who recently secured a job in the entertainment industry, is one step closer to her ultimate goal: implementing strategies for artists to establish creative livelihood, changing the worlds of entertainment and media through live entertainment, business, and entrepreneurship.
The future looks bright for Anaya, a testament to the foundation she built as a Scholar, one that a new generation of students will carry on for years to come, thanks in large part to Steppingstone’s newly announced merger with Philadelphia Futures.
“Steppingstone and Philadelphia Futures remain committed to positioning kids in the best way to find success in the future,” she says. “Investing in students — underrepresented students of various backgrounds, who have bright minds — that’s the best investment you make in the future of our communities, and our world.”