Fifty-three students received one or more Unity Scholarships at the Community Scholarship Recognition Reception held on June 23 at Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, 1706 Dewey Avenue.
Keynote speaker Corey Winchester, a History and Social Studies teacher at ETHS, encouraged the students to honor those who have helped them get where they are today, especially their ancestors.
“In my classroom I have a sign that says ‘No History, No Self’… If we don’t have a solid recognition of our own history, our own stories, of the people that worked to get us where we are, then I don’t think we have a solid understanding of ourselves,” said Mr. Winchester, who is a 2019 Golden Apple awardee.
The Unity Scholarship Committee, comprised of 23 predominantly African American Evanston-based organizations, has awarded more than $1 million dollars to high school and college students since 1985. Member organizations combine efforts to recognize the academic excellence of local youth and help high school graduates further their education.
While Unity scholarships provide much-needed financial assistance to dozens of students each year, they also represent the concept of unity within the Evanston community. The Unity logo, designed and hand lettered by Charlene Jones in 1986, includes the names of member organizations in concentric circles around a large, bold letter “U.”
“Charlene’s design has been computerized and is the permanent and proud symbol of Black community organizations working together toward a unifying experience,” wrote Unity co-founder Yvonne Davis in 1988.
It has been nearly 35 years since Ms. Davis, a retired teacher and community leader, and C. Louise Brown, a retired public health director for the City of Evanston and a trailblazer with a passion for her local community, made a commitment to each other to bring the idea of Unity Scholarships to fruition. They were joined by fellow community leaders Helen Cromer Cooper (deceased) and Charlene Jones. Four organizations and one individual participated in the first Unity Scholarship Reception, held at Second Baptist Church in Evanston: Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., the NAACP and Ione S. Brown who integrated her Second Baptist Church Memorial Scholarship Program with Unity. Thirteen additional organizations participated the second year.
Many organizations under the Unity umbrella award renewable scholarships to qualifying students. Others include additional forms of support, such as a mentoring component. One such example is the Oliver A. Ruff Educational and Mentoring Scholarship (OAR). Retired educator Oliver Ruff, in whose name the scholarship was established by family and friends, believes the benefits of mentoring are myriad.
“Students can communicate with and relate to members of the OAR board in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their success in college,” Mr. Ruff told the RoundTable.
He believes that Unity scholarships as a whole serve as a motivator for today’s youth.
“Just having a coalition of scholarships that persons of color can apply for, and have a greater opportunity to get a scholarship, can help them succeed in college. Students get opportunities for financial assistance and support that they may not have had otherwise,” said Mr. Ruff.
In addition to awarding scholarships, the Unity Scholarship program recognized African American honor roll students, National Honor Society members and National Merit finalists at Evanston Township High School.
Evanston resident and business owner Bryant Wallace serves on the board of two Unity scholarship member organizations, OAR and the Chessmen Club of the North Shore, Inc.
“To see all those students – yes we gave them their scholarships, but I think the event was really about us celebrating them as they go off into this world.”
“And there was the chance for the current high school honor roll students to be inspired by those graduates and see the way the community really rallied around them. I mean, the church was packed!,” said Mr. Wallace.
The event captured the essence of what co-founder Ms. Davis wrote in 1988: “Unity works because we want it to.”