Black History Month scholarship award winner Trenton Hammond, right, and his mother, Tracy Hammond, enjoy the banquet at Seward County Community College/Area Technical School Saturday night. Hammond was awarded a $1,000 scholarship by the Black History Committee. L&T photos/Rachel Coleman
By RACHEL COLEMAN
• Leader & Times
In its ninth year, the Rosa Parks Scholarship Banquet sponsored by Liberal’s Black History Committee proved an exercise in generosity. The BHC awarded three scholarships totaling $2,000 to graduating seniors from Liberal’s minority community.
A diverse group of local pastors and community leaders participated in the evening. A new addition to the program was the presentation of the A.H. Smith Service Award, named in honor of the longtime church pastor and community leader.
“He did so many things for this community and the people here, we couldn’t list them all,” said the Rev. Paul Atkinson. “We wanted to remember him, and we wanted to remind people it’s important to be active in your community.”
Atkinson also said that “when they asked me to announce this award, I said, ‘I don’t like to be in the dark,’ but when they told me the young lady’s name, I said, ‘I can deal with that.’”
That’s because the winner of the award was Atkinson’s sister, Bea Atkinson.
“She’s always doing something good,” Atkinson said. “She’s involved in everything, so much that you might think she’s the mayor of the town. She’s consistent in being persistent.”
The Rev. Lawrence Johnson took a turn at the podium to present the scholarship awards for the 2013-14 school year.
“To win this scholarship, these seniors had to do a lot,” he said. “They had to write an essay, and not something short. It had to be 750 to 1,000 words. And it had to be turned in on time. The topic was to be about a prominent African-American person who has had a profound effect on the world.”
First-place winner Trenton Hammond read his winning essay about Booker T. Washington, the African-American educator, businessman and author, after which Johnson presented him with a mock check for $1,000 bearing the face of Rosa Parks.
“Don’t try to take that to bank,” Johnson said with a smile. “We’ll send it to your college.”
Additional scholarship winners were Cedric Mitchell and Jai Chapman, who each received a $500 scholarship. Funds for the scholarships were raised by the Black History Committee through T-shirt sales and banquet tickets.
Johnson said he spoke for the entire Black History Committee in voicing a desire to keep the scholarship program growing.
“We want to help our young people keep on dreaming,” he said.
In her presentation — part dramatic monologue, part sermon — speaker Jeanette James picked up on the same theme, revisiting the past to marvel at “how far we’ve come.”
“This is the real story behind the story,” she said in her introduction. “All you children out there in the world, you need to remember what came before you.”
James impersonated people from African who were captured, brought across the Atlantic in the infamous “Middle Passage” ships, sold and enslaved. Through songs and poems, James reviewed the story of abolition, the Civil War, the migration of black Americans to the north — including Kansas — the era of Jim Crow laws and the Civil Rights movement. The stories were personal for her, she noted, sharing that her grandfather came to Southwest Kansas in 1909 to homestead outside of Hugoton.
The evening also included a giveaway to guests, who dined at tables decorated by local businesses and individuals. Prizes were awarded for the table-decorators, with Sherrell Russell, Tracy Hammond and Rhonda Howard claiming top honors.
The Liberal High School Jazzmen performed to enthusiastic applause. Director Lance Burnett led the group in the Dolly Parton/Whitney Houston song, “I Will Always Love You,” a hit with the audience.
The banquet contained an education component as well. In addition to setting up a display board with information about sickle cell anemia, two local mothers and grandmothers — Beverly Williams and Barbara Wiltshire — gave a presentation about sickle-cell anemia.
“We just want people to be aware of this disease, and keep in mind that they always need money for research,” Williams said. “If you’re African American, you’ve probably got someone in your family with this disease.”
Organizers said the banquet, like all the Black History Month events in February, was well attended.
“It seems like it’s growing,” said Black History Committee member Christine Hammond. “And that’s what we want — people from all over the community to come and be part of this.”