Beginning with the welcoming remarks by Nicole Mims-Johnson and continuing through remarks by master of ceremonies Adrian Dortch, the keynote speech by Dr. Jazmine Daye Dillard, and the solo sung by Antoinette Jackson-Salonis, the annual UNITY Scholarship Recognition Reception focused on the important role that family plays in the life of a student.
The UNITY Scholarship recognition program began in 1985 when C. Louise Brown, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and Yvonne Davis of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority made a “call to unity” to several other black community organizations that offered college scholarships. Charlene Jones and Helen Cromer Cooper soon joined, and UNITY was created, holding its initial scholarship tea at Second Baptist Church. The first organizations to pool their resources and support for the UNITY program were Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Ione S. Brown, Kappa Alpha Psi, and Delta Sigma Theta.
Over the next 30 years, more organizations joined UNITY, and at the June 26 ceremony, 19 organizations presented scholarships to approximately 70 students, some retuning to college, others headed to college for the first time. Several students received more than one award.
New this year is the UNITY Inspirational Award, created to honor the four founders. Ms. Brown, Ms. Davis, and Ms. Jones’s daughter were able to attend the ceremony.
“Congratulations to the students and their parents for their hard work,” Ms. Mims-Johnson said. Mr. Dortch thanked families for supporting the young people and added, “Youth, thank you for being the kind of kids your parents can say, ‘God Bless.’” Ms. Jackson-Salonis dedicated her song to her mother and said to the scholarship recipients, “Encourage and be encouraged.”
Dr. Dillard applauded the scholars and their families and said she knew that she was not alone – that parents, family, and friends helped her further her education. She said her parents’ values were instilled in her and kept her going. Her mother, she said, steered her toward Xavier University in New Orleans, though she had planned on attending Michigan State. By her second year, as she grew more independent, she said she knew Xavier was “home.”
Hurricane Katrina displaced her – and much of New Orleans – and she returned to the Chicago area to finish her undergraduate work at Loyola University of Chicago. With a major in Spanish she was uncertain about her next steps, she said, and her father told her not to “settle” but to work hard for what she wanted to attain.
She offered three pieces of advice for these new and returning UNITY scholars: “Find your purpose in life; know that all things are possible; and be willing to take risks. … You are future scientists, doctors, entrepreneurs. You can shape our world. … Scholars, I want you to know that your life experiences will help you find your true calling.”
“Evanston is a beautiful community,” Dr. Dillard told the scholars. She also said they should remember their families: “Remember where you came from.”