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Community Partners Hold 37th Annual Black Scholars Recognition Program

PURCHASE, NY -- Excitement filled the air at Manhattanville College as parents and friends watched over 200 students march into the room at Reid Castle to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance for the 37th Annual Black Scholars Recognition Program. The theme for the occasion was “To be Young, Gifted and Black” which was certainly appropriate for this occasion, where students were recognized for their achievements and academic excellence. Schools throughout Westchester County were represented by students of African descent who had achieved a GPA of B+ and higher during their high school years.

The event was hosted by the Black Scholars Community Partnership, a coalition of organizations that supports the achievements and academic excellence of students by awarding scholarships and book awards to a most deserving group of often forgotten students. Ms. Renee LeGendre, chair of the Black Scholars Partnership, greeted the students with words of encouragement as they marked this special day in their lives. In addition to their academic achievements, the students were applauded for their involvement in community service.

Dr. Louise Feroe, Interim President of Manhattanville College in Purchase, extended greetings and words of inspiration to the students to continue learning as they move forward in this next phase of their lives. She stressed that “Education is Power and with Power comes Responsibility. Gain power and be responsible!” Manhattanville College has hosted the recognition program for many years and provides a most appropriate setting for the recognition of academic excellence.

Statement of the occasion was given by Ms. Sorraya Sampson, CEO and President of the Urban League of Westchester, who spoke of her predecessor, the late Ernest Prince. Mr. Prince served as President of the Urban League for 37 years, and understood the importance of a quality education and was an advocate for education reform. His strong belief that it was important to acknowledge African Americans youth who achieved academic excellence led him to be a driving force behind the formation and implementation of the Black Scholars Community Partnership, and he was joined by likeminded leaders in achieving this goal, which has continued for over 37 years. She expressed her delight in seeing the students and their parents for the first time since 2019 celebrating their achievements and academic excellence at the Black Scholars Recognition Program, since everything was shut down because of the pandemic. She cautioned the students that they have a responsibility to continue the fight for economic rights, to develop leadership skills, and to become the next generation of leaders to move this nation forward, reminding the students that they are not alone. “We have your back; the community has your back and you can reach out to us!”

Sophia Ilene Farrell, a graduating Senior from White Plains High School, was the 2023 Black Scholar speaker. In introducing Sophia to the attendees, Frank Williams said she exudes greatness and commitment. A National Honor student and scholar, she is involved in numerous activities and has been recognized for her dedication and involvement is the community. Sophia born and raised in Manhattan, New York, and moved to White Plains in her sophomore year. She will be attending Siena College’s extensive Pre-Law Program in the Fall, studying Political Science with a double major in Law. Upon finalizing the Law School component of her studies, she plans on using her law degree to become a public servant helping her community. She received the White Plains Youth of the Year Award for 2022 and the Youth Leadership Award from Senator Shelly Mayer, that recognizes student leaders in the Community. In addition, she holds several positions in clubs outside of school, including serving as President of the White Plains Mayor’s Youth Council and Vice-President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) White Plains/Greenburgh Youth Council, where she focuses on getting youth to register to vote along with working with the League of Women Voters. Sophia is a member of the White Plains Youth Bureau’s Youth Board in an advisory capacity being a voice for White Plains youth. She is also a member of the Family Services of Westchester’s Youth Council and a former member of the White Plains Youth Court. In addition to her school activities and community involvement, she works at the White Plains Youth Bureau after-school as a Counselor.

In her remarks to the graduating Seniors present, Sophia urged the students to always remember to express your gratitude to those who have helped you to get where you are. “It is up to us to choose the path we want to take for your future. While the last years of school have been different for us because of the pandemic, whatever we have dealt with is an important achievement. No one can stop us if we have our minds set. We have dealt with obstacles but life has given us the spark to keep going and moving forward. You have what you need to get to the finish line. Have faith in what you believe, you can achieve!”.

After listening to the inspiring words from Sophia, the afternoon shifted to a spoken word presentation by Kaitlyn Leslie, a student from the Denzel Washington School of the Arts, who brought the students to their feet, with her oration entitled, “I Am A Black Woman.” She is a 2023 NAACP Westchester Region ACT-SO winner.

The keynote speaker for Black Scholars Day was Dawna Michelle Fields, Director of Operations and Community Affairs for Colgate Palmolive Company. She has spearheaded the Bright Smiles, Bright Futures Program, NA, since it was launched in 1991, a program that strives to reach underprivileged children wherever they live, work or play. She is an Ordained Elder in the Presbyterian Church. Ms. Fields asked the students to “Ask yourself, what’s next?” And added that this question will cross every student’s mind. You will worry what should I do after high school? This is a tough question to answer as parents and society put a lot of pressure on students to make that decision. After high school is a new chapter in your life, full of ups and downs, independence, relationships, fulfillment and longings. She shared what she called her seven tips for the future: “#Dawna Keep It Moving Baby!” 1) It is never too early to start working on your passion. Spend as much time as possible learning. 2) Until you find out what you want to do, stay as busy as possible. Learn basic skills to become more independent. She was part of first WISE program at Woodlands High School. 3) Money does not buy happiness but it does buy peace of mind. Money is an important factor in your future. 4) Never be afraid to hit rock bottom. You will learn to trust yourself through failure, knowledge and experience, then you will never be paralyzed by that fear. Look back and learn from it. 5) Stay on the right side and stick to your core values. Aim to stay on the right side and help those around you. 6) Don’t aim to be an influencer, but if you must, aim to make a positive difference; be an influencer with high social impact. Get to the top of your field and make sure you use your knowledge to educate others. 7) Take care of your health – body, mind and soul! She summed up her positive and uplifting message by adding “Work hard; life is short, get the most out of it. Go out and live your best life!”

The Awards Program began with John Campbell loosing up the audience with lighthearted humor and introducing himself as the “Money Man!” He presented the 2023 Essay Award of $1,000 to Senayah Mede, a Mount Vernon High School Senior.

A special award (the Faye Fagan Scholarship) was presented to Genesis Robinson, a Woodlands High School Senior, in the amount of $3,000. Genesis will be attending Spelman College in the fall. The scholarship was given by Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc, Zeta Nu Omega Chapter, in honor of Faye Fagan, a graduate of Bennett College and member of the AKA Chapter, who served as an educator for 29 years, and who was the former chair of the Black Scholars Community Partnership for many years.

The John H. Harmon Scholarship was awarded by Charlene Gairey, Coordinator of the African American Heritage Celebration Coalition, to Maria Medina Lozada from Roosevelt High School. Maria will be attending Lehman College, majoring in Education.

The Westchester Pan-Hellenic Council Scholarship was awarded to Kailey Smith of Yonkers Middle-High School, in the amount of $2,000, which was presented by Kemba High-Ellerbe, President.

The Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Scholarship was awarded to Serge Lagardere, a graduating Senior from Archbishop Stepinac High School, who will be attending Western University.

The Dr. Marcos Asamenew Scholarship was presented to Elijah Nelson, a graduating Senior at Lakeland High School. Dr. Asamenew is Medical Director of the Westchester Community Health Center, Mount Vernon site.

Scholarship Awards in the amount of $500 were presented by Ali Morgan to graduating Seniors: Shenique Scott, from Roosevelt High School; Oluwafadeyemi Akinkuoli-Lbidapo, from Yonkers Middle-High School; Benjamin Lyttle-Murrain, from Archbishop Stepinac High School; and Kristen Alana Luther, from White Plains High School.

All students attending received a plaque for their achievements and academic excellence.

A Proclamation from County Executive George Latimer was read by Craig Woodward, Co-Chair of Black Scholars, with the notation that Sunday, June 4, 2023 was proclaimed “Black Scholars Day” in Westchester County.

The Black Scholars Community Partnership includes representatives from: African American Heritage Celebration Coalition; African American Men of Westchester; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.-Pi Iota Chapter; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.-Westchester Alumnae Chapter; Kappa Alpha Fraternity-New Rochelle/White Plains Chapter; The Links, Inc-Greater Hudson Valley Chapter and Westchester County Chapter; Manhattanville College’ National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc-Westchester County Club; National Council of Negro Woman; National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc.-Westchester Chapter; Omega Phi Psi Fraternity, Inc.-Beta Alpha Alpha and Omicron Iota Chapters; Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.-Beta Psi Sigma Alumni Chapter; Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.-Delta Nu Sigma Chapter; Urban League of Westchester County; Westchester Alliance of Black School Educators; White Plains Youth Bureau; and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.-Gamma Xi Zeta Chapter.


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