Topeka High grad earns scholarship via national retailer

Lydeah Kearse, 19, of Topeka was recently selected as the winner of the Ashley Stewart Leadership Scholarship. She will be honored during the “Finding Ashley Stewart 2017” finale in New York. (Submitted)

Lydeah Kearse, of Topeka, will be honored as the winner of the first Ashley Stewart Leadership Scholarship on Saturday at the “Finding Ashley Stewart 2017” finale in New York.


The international retailer will award Kearse the $10,000 scholarship at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn, N.Y., where the clothing company was founded in 1991. They are also covering the expenses of her flight, transportation, hotel and giving her VIP tickets.

Kearse is a sophomore entrepreneurship student in the College of Business and Economics at North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University in Greensboro, N.C. She is the 19-year-old daughter of George and Sharon Kearse, also of Topeka. She has one sister, JoVan Kearse, who lives in Tennessee.

“I’m extremely proud of her. Whatever she puts her heart to or puts her mind to she gives 100 percent, and I’m not like that myself. I’m just her fan club, I mean I’m just her biggest cheerleader. Her dad and I both are,” said Sharon Kearse, who is flying to New York from Kansas to be with her daughter for the scholarship presentation. “She just has something in her — it’s a winning attitude. She’s really making her name in North Carolina.”

Ashley Stewart Scholarship winner.

Lydeah Kearse learned about the schoolwide scholarship for sophomore and junior women and certain business majors through an email sent by the N.C. A&T School of Business. No other schools participated in the scholarship application process.

“It was specifically given to a N.C. A&T student,” she said.

The Ashley Stewart executive chairman and CEO James Rhee “came to a business forum for women’s empowerment earlier in the year,” Lydeah Kearse said of the launch of the scholarship, via Facebook Video Chat.

She applied in late June and was notified she was one of 10 female finalists the first weekend of July. She was required to submit an application, and an essay describing how she demonstrated leadership qualities, and a one-minute personal video.

“I had to have a 3.5 or above (GPA), show financial need, write an essay explaining what leadership was to me, how have I shown it in my community and how will I continue to show it in the future,” Lydeah Kearse said.

The scholarship will be applied to her second semester of her sophomore year in the spring of 2018 at N.C. A&T.

“Being an out-of-state student, the tuition is very, very high,” she said on what inspired her to apply for the scholarship.

“And I appreciate that Lydeah. That takes the strain off of my pocketbook,” her mom added.

“She has real good studying habits. She’s thousands of miles away and she’s finding her way. She’s connected with the church. She’s connected with good people and I couldn’t have done that, maybe I could have, but I don’t think I could have at that young of an age. I’m just proud of her that she’s able to just survive on her own,” Kearse’s mom said.

The family attends Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Topeka.

She currently has partial scholarships to attend N.C. A&T, which she received her senior year at Topeka High School in 2016, where she was all-school president, madrigal president, named outstanding senior, was a National Honor Society student, a varsity swimmer and a member of the varsity dance team.

“In the future, I plan on owning a dance studio, in efforts of expanding representation for all races in the dance world,” Lydeah Kearse said. “And just allow opportunities to those who don’t typically get the opportunity to dance.”

“Today it’s Lydeah’s, it’s her cross that she’s bearing, but you keep doing it ‘cause you’re not only doing it for you, you’re doing it for someone else, so that tomorrow will look different,” Sharon Kearse said of her daughter’s struggles as an African-American dancer.

She is training across the state of North Carolina at different workshops.

“I teach at a studio here (North Carolina) and I teach back home at a couple of studios (Topeka) — The Dance Factory and Radiant,” she said.

She has been dancing since she was 3 years old, and currently teaches girls 6 to 18 years old.

“It’s a release and it allows me to express the things that I can’t express verbally,” Lydeah Kearse said on what dancing means to her.