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Bay Area Oscar-winner gives back to Saint Mary’s College

East Bay native Mahershala Ali isn’t just using his Academy Award clout to land bigger and better roles in Hollywood. He’s also giving back to Saint Mary’s College, the place where his love for acting blossomed.
Last year, shortly after Ali captured the best supporting actor Oscar for his role in “Moonlight,” Saint Mary’s announced the establishment of a $30,000 Moonlight Scholarship, initiated by Ali and funded by private donors. The scholarship benefits students in the school’s High Potential Program, designed to provide higher education access to — and foster the success of — first-generation and/or low-income students of color.
“I wanted to continue to have a relationship with the school, but in a more deliberate and conscious way,” says Ali, who was born in Oakland and raised in Hayward. “I wanted my presence, in part, to have a positive impact on the school in its entirety, but more specifically speak to a program that was near and dear to my heart.”
Ali (Class of ’96), who came to Saint Mary’s to play basketball, was the first in his family to attend college and participated in the High Potential Program. While on campus, he honed his interest in the arts.
In October, Ali returned to Moraga to meet with scholarship recipients and appear at a special benefit screening of “Green Book,” his latest film.
“I was a kid from Hayward who got a solid public education,” he says. “But Saint Mary’s is definitely another level and there was a bit of a bridge to build to make up for what I wasn’t prepared for. That’s what the High Potential Program does. I wanted to speak directly to those kids who deal with being here and, at times, not necessarily feel like they belong — or at a time when you’re trying to figure out who you are and lock into your own identity.”
Ali says the longterm goal is to help fund full tuitions, but for now the money “is more of a gesture — a little tap on the shoulder that says, ‘Hey, we’re thinking about you.’”

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