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An appreciative crowd several hundred strong gathered in Mt. Zion Baptist Church as hundreds of scholarships were awarded June 26. The awards were presented by UNITY, founded in 1985 to bring together African American community organizations that gave scholarships to deserving North Shore students. At the end of the festivities, 62 students, nearly all graduates of Evanston Township High School, took home hundreds of scholarships awarded by no less than 21 community organizations.

UNITY was founded in 1985 by C. Louise Brown and Yvonne Davis, according to program materials. Over the past 26 years it has overseen the award of $800,000 in scholarships and books stipends, according to the introductory letter by 2011 UNITY Scholarship Chair Judge Mary Maxwell Thomas.

Attendees included aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, and Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, Evanston Township Supervisor Patricia Vance, and District 202 School Board members Scott Rochelle and Jonathan Baum. Judge Lionel Jean-Baptiste served as the master of ceremonies.

The ceremony also honored 235 honor roll ETHS students, many of whom filled the choir box behind the speakers and enjoyed a close up view of graduates accepting thousands of dollars for tuition and books.

Owen L. Thomas, II described his troubled college career in which he dropped out only to gather his resolve and return to school, finish, and embark on a successful career. He acknowledged the importance of family, church and community organizations such as UNITY in pushing him to success. “I did not get here by myself,” he said.

Oliver Ruff, for whom the Oliver A. Ruff Mentoring and Educational Scholarship was named, beamed as he described the pride he felt in helping the latest generation get college educations. His fund has given 19 scholarships so far, he said, and follows students through college. “We try to contact them at least once a month,” he said.

Celebration filled the sanctuary as students made their way forward to receive awards. Parents and a church full of friends and family soaked it all up as the future looked bright, begining with this one afternoon.