Annual gala recognizes high school seniors, businesses and others
(pictured above: WXII’s Busta Brown speaks as Teen Achievers (from left) Jaelyn Holmes, Malik Jacobs, Mariah Jacobs, Jyles Leak, Nadaje Paquette, Dominique Hill, Rhyan McDowell and Ebony Watkins stand.)
Graduating high school seniors and business and community leaders were honored May 8 at the Winston Lake Family YMCA’s annual Black Achievers Gala at Greater Cleveland Avenue Christian Church.
Black Achievers enlists adult professionals to help prepare students for college and plan their careers. Of the 121 students in program, 28 are graduating seniors. Eight of the seniors were presented with scholarships at the gala.
“It helps them have a sense of community,” Andrea Hicks, Winston Lake Family YMCA Youth and Family Services director, said of the program. “They’re able to have adult mentors on site to give them any type of help they need in navigating the college process, helping learn about various careers and those sorts of things.”
Dominique Hill, a senior at Mt. Tabor High School, received a BB&T scholarship. He said his four years in Black Achievers helped to improve his communication skills and credits the program with helping him to get into Hampton University, where he plans to major in either political science, public administration or business and minor in music.
“I evolved from freshman year to senior year as a person, and the only way that happened was because Black Achievers helped me out,” he said. “I feel I am more prepared for college than if I wasn’t in Black Achievers.”
Hill is an aspiring politician who hopes to be elected to public office at a young age, like City Council Member Derwin Montgomery, the gala’s keynote speaker. Montgomery was a 20-year-old Winston-Salem State University student when he was elected to the City Council in 2009. He told the gala crowd that the black community needs to tell its stories of success in order to inspire young people.
“It’s because of the people who have done so much before me that I can, at the age of 25, be doing what I’m doing and standing where I’m standing. I have not done this by myself,” said Montgomery, pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church.
Parkland High School senior Ebony Watkins She said altruism is one of the most important things she learned in Black Achievers. She and the other achievers volunteered to serve food to the homeless at the Winston Lake Y’s annual Thanksgiving and Christmas breakfasts.
“I think I have grown as a person,” she said “I feel I’ve become more inclined to help others since I’ve been in the program.”
Watkins also said the program has inspired to push for change as an activist. She’ll pursue a Global Studies and Communications degree at the University of Chapel Hill. She received a BB&T Scholarship and a $3,500 Moses H. Lucas Scholarship, which is named for an iconic Winston Lake Y employee and volunteer.
Lucas, who turned 90 last week and has spent the last 60 years at the Y, spoke briefly as the scholarship was presented. He said he was humbled to have the honor named for him.
“It makes me happy; It brings tears to my eyes,” Lucas told the crowd.
The other scholarship recipients are Jaelyn Holmes, Malik Jacobs, Mariah Jacobs, Jyles Leak, Rhyan McDowell and Nadaje Paquette.
Dr. Willard McCloud was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award for the more than 50 years he has treated patients at his own practice. Distinguished Service Awards went to acclaimed playwright Garrett Davis for his Alzheimer’s advocacy; Willie Mason for his music ministry; and Cheryl Lindsay for her myriad community involvements, including her Red HEARRT women’s health initiative.
Minority Business Awards went to Pink Culture Mobile Boutique, Johnson-Howard-Robinson Home of Memory (a funeral home) and Miss Jenny’s Pickles. Youth Achievement Awards went to teen drag car racer Matt Murphy and Elasya Jessup, the 10-year-old owner of Elasya B’s Candy Tree on Fourth Street.
Adult Achievers – community members who volunteer with the program – were also recognized. They included Tonya Barnes, Sheila Jackson, Aaron Harrill, Shanelle Pendleton, Pam Smith and Michelle Wilkins of Pepsico Food Service; Sonya Wagstaff and Denise A. Smith of JDL Castle; and Carl Bosell, Geneice Boyd and Monty Hickman of Food Lion.