News Release

University of South Carolina Student Honored for Leading on Equity

Antonia Adams, a Junior from Edgefield, SC, Receives 2021 Ginny Looney Servant Leader Award

MEDIA CONTACT:  Gretchen Wright,, (202) 421-5830

August 4, 2021 (Atlanta, GA)–The Southern Education Foundation (SEF) today announced that it has presented its Ginny Looney Servant Leader Award to University of South Carolina student Antonia Adams. Adams, a junior majoring in Business Economics, earned the award for her outstanding work as a Southern Education Leadership Initiative (SELI) Fellow with the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education this summer. The Southern Education Foundation launched SELI in 2004 to build a pipeline of equity-oriented education leaders and halt the “brain drain” in the South. Adams was one of 17 outstanding graduate and undergraduate students in the 2021 SELI cohort.

The Award, named in memory of long-time Atlanta attorney Ginny Looney, supports and acknowledges young leaders who exemplify Looney’s commitment to ethics, to restoring faith in government, and to serving the community. The Award includes a stipend to help the recipient continue their service work and a donation to an organization of the recipient’s choosing. Adams directed her donation to Women In Unity, a nonprofit organization in her hometown of Edgefield, South Carolina that supports positive change in the lives of disadvantaged children and families in the Edgefield community by providing programs that will significantly improve their chance for success in school, in the workplace, and in the home.

The Award was endowed by Looney’s husband, Steve Suitts, former Vice President of the Southern Education Foundation. “The award is given annually in memory of my late wife, Ginny Looney, to recognize the summer fellows who show extraordinary ability and exceptional knowledge and know-how in advancing equity in education,” said Suitts. “The recipients also are young people who demonstrate resilience, personal integrity, and a deep dedication to equity that hopefully will continue as guides during the future years of their lives.”

“I am very grateful for this award, the opportunity to serve as a SELI Fellow at the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, and to be recognized for the equity work that I led and participated in this summer,” said Adams. “I was excited to be able to donate to Women in Unity. I selected that organization because I volunteered there when I was in high school.  It was one of the places that sparked my passion for providing support on a student’s educational journey.  I worked with the students, cleaned the premises, and watched the passionate staff help students with homework, reading, and math literacy.  It showed me the need for supporting small nonprofits, as I saw how the staff worked one-on-one with students.  Furthermore, I’m happy to give back to my hometown.”

At the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, Adams was responsible for managing the National College Attainment Network Grant to assist high school students with completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The COVID-19 pandemic interfered with the efforts of many rural and urban students to complete the FAFSA. To address this, during her fellowship, Adams managed a team of FAFSA Guides who conducted outreach to high schools, colleges, and churches across the state to personally assist students and answer questions about federal financial aid. She also conducted outreach to students via social media. Adams assisted with developing a College Process Ambassador Program which will involve selecting high school seniors who can inform their peers about college application and student success resources. Those Ambassadors will also engage in community outreach, assist on statewide FAFSA completion efforts, and receive a scholarship and support from the Commission on Higher Education once they enter college. Adams will continue to work with the Commission this fall.

The Southern Education Leadership Initiative (SELI) is an intensive, eight-week, paid summer fellowship for graduate and undergraduate students interested in advancing racial equity and improving education across the pre-K through college continuum. Placed in nonprofits, school districts, or state education agencies in the South, SELI Fellows spend the summer developing as leaders, engaging with valuable stakeholders, and acquiring practical job skills through direct learning experiences.

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for low-income students and students of color and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at