Release Date: 
Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Kalimah Gardner earns national award and local award for the second straight year

headshot of Kalimah Gardner
HFC telecommunication student Kalimah Gardner recently won the Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship and the Barrett Creative Writing Award. This is the second straight year she's won both awards.

Kalimah Gardner wants to be a film producer. From her successes so far while still in college, she is well on her way.

For the second year in a row, Kalimah (pronounced kah-LEE-mah) has won both the Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship and the Barrett Creative Writing Award.

“I was crying tears of joy when I found out [about the Live Más Scholarship]. I was just shocked. I’m excited that I won, and I’m extremely grateful,” said Gardner, a lifelong Inkster resident.

This year, she will be awarded $10,000 from the Live Más Scholarship program. The funds will help her finish her degree at HFC. Last year, Live Más awarded her $5,000. She will also be awarded $100 from Barrett for her poetry.

“I’m very happy,” she said. “I opened my laptop, and I was shaking when I got the email. When I saw how much I won, I burst into tears. I’m very thankful, and proud of myself.”

Taco Bell Foundation Summer of Connection program leader

Gardner’s adventure doesn’t end there. This summer, the Taco Bell Foundation will fly her out to San Diego July 10-13 to be a leader in its Summer of Connection program. All of this year’s Live Más winners will gather and participate in various creative workshops.

“It will be my first time on a plane, so I’m a little nervous,” she confessed.

But the excitement outweighs the nerves. “Because I won the scholarship, they chose me to be a leader for their Summer of Connection program, where they gather all the winners and host workshops,” said Gardner. “This is an amazing opportunity. I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

She spoke about her late father, who passed away in late 2021. He was her rock.

“I wish my dad could have been here to see this,” said Gardner. “I know he would be proud of me.”

The audience can feel sparks

The third of four children, Gardner graduated from Romulus High School. She began her education at Eastern Michigan University and the University of Detroit Mercy, where she completed some coursework before transferring to HFC.

“The tuition is much more affordable at HFC,” said Gardner. “The College has a nice campus, and it is a welcoming community. The faculty members are great people who are very encouraging, supportive, and friendly.”

Gardner's mentors are HFC Chairperson for the Department of Communication and Media Susan McGraw and HFC English instructor Ruth Ann Schmitt.

“Susan McGraw goes above and beyond to help her students. She helped me get my internship last year. Throughout my internship, she was contacting me regularly to see if I was on the right path,” she said. “Ruth Ann Schmitt is an amazing teacher who is very passionate about what she does. I’ve always loved her passion for the creative arts and creative writing. (HFC Spanish instructor) Maggie Rutkowski is amazing as well. She never hesitates to give me extra support on topics and lessons.”

Rutkowski saw Gardner recite her poetry at the Barrett Creative Writing Contest ceremony on April 20.

“Kalimah is a student you hope keeps taking classes forever – she is energetic, motivated, and always striving to learn more!” said Rutkowski. “Her enthusiasm and bright personality are infectious, and I wasn’t surprised to learn of her winning creative writing résumé!”

Schmitt echoed Rutkowski’s sentiments.

“Hidden behind Kalimah’s delightful disposition is a powerful political voice,” said Schmitt. “Her observations are astute and witty, and her language is articulate and emotional. When she reads her poems, the audience can feel sparks.”

Discovering her passion for filmmaking

Gardner is majoring in telecommunication at the College. After she graduates in 2024, she plans to transfer to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and major in film, television, and media.

At HFC, Gardner found her passion for filmmaking. She started as a theatre major, but everything changed when she took McGraw’s film history and criticism class.

“That class showed me a great film can uplift people and touch people. I know then that’s what I wanted to do,” she recalled. “When I lost my dad, my life went off the rails. When I was getting my life back on track, film made me realize that I can use my experiences to help other people to get their lives back on track. That’s what I like about film: It can encourage people and it can inspire people. That’s what I want to do.”

Gardner’s career goal is working for a company such as Hulu, Disney+, Netflix, HBO, or Pixar.

“I want to be a creative producer, someone who comes up with ideas for TV series and films. I would be the one who hires the director, the cast, and the crew, putting everything into motion,” she said. “I really love film and the creative process. I love creating narrative and characters. One reason I love film is that it allows you to connect with people.”

McGraw is impressed by Gardner’s accomplishments, not to mention her grit.

"Kalimah is a fighter,” said McGraw. “When things don't come easily to her, she doubles down and immerses herself in doing what's necessary to change her path to success. I've seen her go from a timid, reserved student to a confident and capable leader both inside and outside the classroom. These scholarship dollars are paving the way for her education and growth to continue. I can't wait to see what she does next!"

Kalimah Gardner’s 2023 Taco Bell Live Más Scholarship video