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Joint Scholarship Celebration

Joint Scholarship Celebration awards $80K to Central Illinois students

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Attendees of the 2021 Joint Scholarship Celebration applaud as nearly $80,000 in scholarship dollars are awarded to Central Illinois students Saturday afternoon viz Zoom. 

BLOOMINGTON — COVID-19 may have moved the annual Joint Scholarship Celebration into an online format this year, but it didn’t stop some 100 people from tuning in to Zoom on Saturday afternoon to watch the awards presentation.

More than a dozen community groups, fraternities and sororities presented nearly $80,000 in scholarship funds to 24 African American students in the Bloomington-Normal area.

“It is gratifying to celebrate the success of local students,” said Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson, co-founder of the Mentoring And Providing Scholarships Program. “The impact of the Joint Scholarship Celebration is monumental, as we award approximately $80,000 each year. We are investing in our youth and our community!”

The theme for this year’s celebration — “Steadfast, Unmovable and Bound for Success” — was reflected in the keynote address by Ashley Rene Casey, senior learning business partner at Amazon, which also sponsored the event.

Addressing the students in the Zoom call, Casey recalled when she herself was a senior in high school: “I was excited to graduate with the world at my fingertips … I wanted to work on Broadway in the theater.”

But that year, her father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she stopped going to school so she could be there for her family. Three days before her father died, Casey learned she was pregnant.

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“My initial vision of everything I was going to do was capsized,” she said.

Struck with grief and “devastated” by the news on both fronts, Casey lost sight of her dreams and was ready to give up. But her English teacher, Dr. Rosa Parks Williams, stuck by her side and made sure she stayed on track — she’d worked hard to get where she was, and she was not going to give up now, Williams told her.

“When a teacher talks to you like that, you listen,” Casey said.

Casey went on to graduate from high school while six months pregnant and enrolled in Texas Southern University to study business, even bringing her baby to class with her at times.

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She graduated with a 3.45 GPA and multiple jobs offers, and accepted a position with a railroad.

“I was one of the few women and one of the few Black people,” she said. “Now at Amazon, I remain one of the only women in the room and one of the only Black people in the room.”

She’s never let it get to her, though, and urged students to give up what society expects of them and to make their own path.

“It’s easy for society to try to tell us that we are the sum of our circumstances, that our circumstances define not just who we are at that moment, but make it difficult to move up, especially if you are a person of color. That’s what society tries to tell us … that the most we could have been was what we started out as,” Casey said.

After introducing her son, now 18, graduating from high school and headed for the Navy, Casey concluded with some final wisdom for the students: “Each of you can do anything you set your mind to if you continue to be steadfast in each of your actions and unmovable despite what is thrown your way, because you are bound for success, and you’ve already proven it.”

Scholarships presented on Saturday included the following:

100 Black Men of Central Illinois

  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Myranda Wiggins, Bloomington High; Eastern Michigan University
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University

African American Hall of Fame

  • Jaylin Malik Sprattling, Peoria High; Northern Illinois University

African American History Museum

  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Denaiya Pendleton, Bloomington High; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • La’Rayia Jackson, Peoria High; Xavier University of Louisiana

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Omicron Delta Omega Chapter

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  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Justin Turner, Normal Community West; Morehouse College
  • La’Rayia Jackson, Peoria High; Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Madyson McSwain, Bloomington High; Spelman College
  • Tolulope Adanri, University High; Yale University

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Nu Psi Lambda Chapter

  • Damon Collins, Normal West High; Illinois State University
  • DeAris McQuirter, Normal West High; University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal West High; University of Iowa
  • Justin Turner, Normal West High; Morehouse College
  • Myranda Wiggins, Bloomington High; Eastern Michigan University
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Bradley Ross Jackson's B.E. KINDness Awards

  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Bloomington/Normal Alumnae Chapter

  • Lana Samuel, Normal Community High; Northern Illinois University
  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Denaiya Pendleton, Bloomington High; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Justin Turner, Normal West; Morehouse College
  • Madyson McSwain, Bloomington High; Spelman College
  • Myranda Wiggins, Bloomington High; Eastern Michigan University
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University
  • Tolulope Adanri, University High; Yale University

Dr. Dominique Lawson Scholarship Fund

  • Lana Samuel, Normal Community High; Northern Illinois University
  • Madyson McSwain, Bloomington High; Spelman College
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Bloomington/Normal Alumni Chapter

  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • DeAris McQuirter, Normal West High; University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Justin Turner, Normal West; Morehouse College
  • Kobe Smith, University High; University of Missouri-Columbia
  • Madyson McSwain, Bloomington High; Spelman College
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University

Links Inc., Central Illinois Chapter

  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Jaylin Malik Sprattling, Peoria High; Northern Illinois University
  • La’Rayia Jackson, Peoria High; Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Naija Tinsley, Champaign Central; University of Missouri
  • Nathaniel Allen, Champaign Central; University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Ryan Bartley, MacArthur High School; Mount Mercy University
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Tolulope Adanri, University High; Yale University

Mentoring And Providing Scholarships (MAPS) Program

  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Myranda Wiggins, Bloomington High; Eastern Michigan University
  • Sadiq Muhammad, Normal Community High; Arizona State University
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

NAACP, Bloomington/Normal Branch

  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Myranda Wiggins, Bloomington High; Eastern Michigan University
  • Elise Gilmer, Normal Community West; North Central College

Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Bloomington/Normal Alumnae Chapter

  • La’Rayia Jackson, Peoria High; Xavier University of Louisiana

Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Kappa Mu Sigma Alumni Chapter

  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Jasmine Pennington, Normal Community High; Illinois State University
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Taniya Boone, Bloomington High; University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Kappa Epsilon Sigma Chapter

  • Brandon Merritt, University High; Augustana College
  • Jasmine Pennington, Normal Community High; Illinois State University
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Lanaja Brownlee, Normal Community High; Tennessee State University

Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Beta Iota Zeta Chapter

  • Alliya Franklin, 2017 graduate of Bloomington High; 2021 graduate of University of Kentucky
  • Aniya Thompson, Normal Community High; Ball State University
  • Denaiya Pendleton, Bloomington High; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Jasmine Pennington, Normal Community High; Illinois State University
  • Jasmyn Jordan, Normal Community West; University of Iowa
  • Noah A. Honorable, Eisenhower High School; Richland Community College
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