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A Gilman Scholar seeks Black power in the written word

Gilman Scholar
She’s also honing her voice to fight for Black rights. Bunton is heading to the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark to study journalism and communication. Source: Gabrielle Bunton

Growing up, Gabrielle Bunton was a victim of bullying and various forms of assault: physical, verbal and sexual. Finances were always tight. She has never seen the world beyond the US, let alone been on a plane. 

The world may have felt all but closed off to Bunton for all 21 years of her life. That, however, is set to change this fall. Bunton is heading to the Danish School of Media and Journalism in Aarhus, Denmark to study journalism and communication as a Gilman Scholar. 

She’s also sharpening her voice to fight for Black rights. Indignant at the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau, she created Flower Girls Garden, a blog and safe space for herself and fellow Black women and girls centred on social justice and revolutionary writing.

“I wanted to not only step away from journalistic writing, but have a safe space for myself and fellow Black women and girls,” she tells Study International.

Below we talk to this award-winning journalist on winning the Gilman Scholarship and what she looks forward to this coming fall semester in Denmark:

Tell us about your story behind your interest in journalism and communication. 

Growing up, I liked to write and draw (and was well-known for writing things) but my interest in journalism started in high school. As I was bullied, physically and verbally assaulted and sexually assaulted during my childhood, writing for a form of expression.

During my sophomore year, I was told by my English teacher to join the newspaper. Although I was bullied, I was always the one sticking up for kids going through the same thing. It earned me a notorious reputation in school but I never wanted anyone to feel bad about themselves. 

So when I joined the school newspaper, I decided to use my writing to bring awareness to such issues in school. My first article was about bullying. While rampant in my school, my piece had many people thinking about the way they treat others. 

I got into a lot of trouble in high school so it was hard for me to accomplish my goals to use writing to help others. I was still getting bullied badly. 

During my junior year, I would make an effort to get back on track with writing at a journalism event called Xposure Camp. This was hosted by Student Publications at Western Kentucky University (WKU) and gave me a deeper look into the world of journalism. 

Gilman Scholar

“I wanted to not only step away from journalistic writing, but have a safe space for myself and fellow Black women and girls,” she says. Source: Gabrielle Bunton

The camp sealed the deal on what I wanted to do with my life and that’s to become a journalist. I want to tell the stories of people who are unable to express themselves. I was recruited by Chuck Clark to join College Heights Herald (the student newspaper at WKU) and have since then been with them as a journalist.

While I do love to write for the Herald, my mind has expanded towards a more revolutionary and radical way of writing. When the death of Breonna Taylor and Oluwatoyin Salau hit, I was extremely distraught.

I wanted to be out there with my people. I was annoyed and angered when my white counterparts were able to post and write whatever they wanted. On the other hand, I was told to keep my opinions to myself. 

I drifted away from classic news and feature writing to centre it towards social justice and revolutionary writing. We, as Black women, have to stand up and get justice for our sisters around the world. 

I only talk about things related to Black women because the deaths of them both showed me that we, Black women, have to stand up and get justice for our sisters and girls around the world. That’s why I created Flower Girls Garden. I wanted to not only step away from journalistic writing, but have a safe space for myself and fellow Black women and girls.

What made you choose to study in Denmark?

It honestly just stuck out to me. I’m big on following my gut so I did. It wasn’t until I did further research that I heard from alumni and my advisor that this would be a great place for me. 

I’ve always wanted to go to another country to experience other cultures so it’s like killing two birds with one stone. I become a better journalist while understanding and getting to know people and their cultures. 

This also helps with the communication aspect because it puts me in a different environment where I have no choice but to make an effort to understand people. I grew up in a predominantly white town so I feel like I need a complete change of scenery to take me to the next level as a person and journalist.

Walk us through winning the Gilman Scholarship. What was the application process like?

I never saw myself winning the Gilman Scholarship. When it comes to doing big things like studying abroad and competitive scholarships, I always counted myself out because I didn’t think I had the skills or mindset to accomplish things of that magnitude. 

Once I started being my own biggest advocate instead of a hater, I changed the game. The process began when a former high school teacher reached out to me about the Gilman Scholarship and I emailed back saying I was interested. 

For the next couple of months, I crafted essays with the teacher until they were perfect. The process was easy for me because writing just comes naturally. The application process was also easy. 

The more I wrote, the more confident I became in the idea that I would win and study abroad. You can never lose when you are humble, real and work hard. I remained that way until the end.

What are you looking most forward to doing in Denmark?

To be honest, I looked at a lot of vlogs and things on YouTube, but I genuinely don’t know. I think I will tap into my adventurous side and just go with the flow. 

I foresee myself crying in the first week because I’ll be in shock that I’m actually there. Since I have five months, I’ll try to figure something out.

What’s one thing you’ll be missing from home and how will you substitute it?

I will mainly miss my friends and family. To make up for it, I plan to contact them as much as I can.

What’s one thing from Denmark you’re planning to bring back to your friends and family back home?

My mother wants a t-shirt and my sisters want cool snacks. For me personally, I want to find something out of the norm. All my friends want cool keychains so I’ll be bringing back a variety of things.

What advice do you have for international students looking to go to Europe and for students who want to apply for scholarships?

My advice is do it. Apply yourself. There are multiple resources out there to help you. There are endless opportunities that people miss out on, don’t be one of them. 

Make sure you research and get down to every single detail. Research your destination country as well. From the culture, mannerisms, and much more, every country has different rules and regulations. Don’t be one of those students who go there just to party. 

Studying abroad can really set you apart in the job market. Make memories but also be all about your business. 

Gilman Scholar

She also created Flower Girls Garden, a blog and safe space for herself and fellow Black women and girls centred on social justice and revolutionary writing. Source: Gabrielle Bunton

As for the scholarships, I would apply to all of them. There are many around that students don’t apply to and it’s easy money in your pockets. Reach out to people in your major as well because they are the ones who know about the great opportunities and how to get the big scholarships. 

Your network is your net worth. Many students are too worried about being popular on campus instead of with professionals who could get you through the door. It’s not as hard as people make it out to be, trust me. 

My family has always had a rough financial situation, so it was important for me to get scholarships. If I didn’t, I don’t think I would still be in college. 

Last but not least, give us three fun facts about yourself:

  1. This will be my first time in a different country and on a plane
  2. I am the creator of my website called “Flower Girls Garden.” I not only wanted to publish my own writings but I wanted to return to my roots without a deadline and structure
  3. I really love Oreo’s, so I plan to try any special flavour of them they have in Denmark