Evanston Township High School students Liana Harris and Mark Sanders were recently honored as the recipients of the 2016 Dajae Coleman Achievement Award. The award was established to recognize two African American ETHS freshmen for their leadership qualities and ability to honor the values articulated by Dajae Coleman’s life and ethics. Each winner received a $1,000 scholarship for his or her post-secondary education.
Because 2016 would have marked Dajae’s graduation year, many of his friends, classmates, and teammates were in attendance at the bittersweet celebration of Dajae’s life and the accomplishments of the two award winners. The carnival-themed event featured an address by Dajae’s mother and DC3F founder, Tiffany Rice, as well as keynote remarks by ETHS senior Camille Allen, the District 202 School Board Student Representative, and a video tribute featuring Dajae’s classmates, and produced by another classmate, Emma Rosinski, as a culminating presentation for her Senior Studies project, an independent study class at ETHS.
“We still have more work to do, because although the recipients of today’s award identify themselves as leaders, this hall should be lined with students of color doing the same,” Camille said in her address. “Our work isn’t done until every single student, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, or religion can stand up a little straighter and raise their voice and say, ‘Yes, I am a leader. My voice matters. My story matters. I am taking up space and I will work to make this world a better place.’”
The Achievement Award application asked students to describe how Dajae’s belief statement and DC3F’s mission statement motivates them to create and maintain positive values. Both winners spoke of Dajae’s commitment to getting up every day, early in the morning, to work out with his grandfather. Liana described her commitment to working hard and its relation to her promotion to a higher math class and starting on her junior varsity volleyball team. “Dajae’s belief statement is a prime example of the way I try to maintain the positive values that he speaks of in his essay,” she said in her paper. “Whatever it is that I want, I work for with dedication and resilience.”
Mark discussed in his essay his respect and love for his single mother, who has done everything for his brother and himself. He described his strong support system, with his grandfather, relatives, and mother, and how important that was for his hard work. He stated, “My family has motivated me to work hard, and to work even harder from now on, simply because I love them so much, and I do not want them to see me fail.” The two students exhibited academic excellence, initiative, and humility as criteria for the award.
Ms. Rice closed the event with a challenge: “I urge you to make strong inroads to eliminate the elements in our society that create disparities that push some forward, while holding others back. I challenge you today to live your life like it’s a blueprint for the rest of the world.”