For the 36th year, promising seniors from high schools across Flint and Genesee County will be recognized for their achievements at the Urban League of Flint’s Salute to Black Scholars on Wednesday, May 16 at Kettering University.
No matter what challenges any teenager faces, these 170 individuals honored by the Urban League and the Flint community are living out their dreams of scholastic achievement and civic participation. The top 15 honorees get scholarships ranging from $500 to $1,000 to augment their college education.
With a speech from Flint Mayor Karen Williams Weaver, an inspiring dance by Spiritual Hands of Praise and live music by David Alexander, parents and students will enjoy a strolling buffet and a rousing cheer for current and former scholars in attendance. Tickets are sold out.
“Some of my friends before me were Black Scholars,” says Ayanna D’Shae Ernestine Johnson, a 17-year-old senior at Carman Ainsworth High School and one of its 15 scholarship winners this year. “This program is more than receiving money. We had to attend workshops that focused on the techniques of interviewing, keeping our bodies healthy and sustaining healthy relationships.”
She adds that “being a black teen carries a lot of peer pressure. It is very hard to stay focused on what is important, to become a productive person in the big world ahead of us.”
Eligible students must maintain better than a 3.0 grade point average and attend two Urban League-sponsored workshops, an orientation and a seminar on ways to attain scholarships, write a resume and prepare themselves for the next steps in life.
The theme of this year’s celebration is “All Students Trained and Ready for Success,” emphasizing the Urban League’s long-term commitment to empowering youth and changing lives through educational opportunity.
“We’re recognizing students and their parents, because these adults have helped their kids with their educational journey from kindergarten to today, through all the circumstances they have faced,” says Reggie Smith, chairman of the Urban League of Flint.
The Urban League is an affiliate of the National Urban League, founded in 1910 to help advance civil rights and economic empowerment in historically underserved urban communities. Today the organization has 95 affiliates serving 300 communities in 35 states and the District of Columbia. It helps elevate the lives of more than 2 million people nationwide.
Flint’s Salute to Black Scholars started with a dinner in 1982 to honor 80 top performing students. Since then, more than 5,000 students have been honored. Graduates have gone on to attend Hampton University, Tuskegee University, Harvard University, Michigan State University and many others. Many are pursuing doctoral degrees in fields such as education, law, medicine and information technology.
Brittany Willingham, 23, a Black Scholar honored in 2012 while a student at Genesee Early College, recently became case manager at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Greater Flint and continues to play an active role in her church, Bethel United Methodist. The University of Michigan-Flint graduate also helps mentor young girls in Bible study, health and beauty.
She is also active in women’s ministries in Flint such as Building Strong Women-Flint, Carriage Town Ministries and Flint South End Soup Kitchen and Young Life.
“This award boosted me up. It showed me that scholastic achievement comes to many whose shoulders I’ve been standing on, Willingham says. “I’m not just another brown face. I am valued. I’m among those who have broken down barriers and achieved much. I give back by helping girls become stronger, more courageous through my job and church ministry.”
She is finishing up a masters degree in ministerial studies and is the author of a Christian inspirational book, Dear Sis 101: Things Every Young Woman After God’s Heart Should Know.