Austin teens receive college scholarships

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Third Unitarian Church awarded $14,000 in scholarships to 14 college-bound students Sunday during its 40th annual scholarship ceremony.

“We want to be sure that kids get a good education,” said Roberta Wilson, founder of the scholarship program. “It’s so important. We need African-Americans to go to college. We want to ensure that they get an education and can help their families survive and live better.”

Wilson, one of nine children, didn’t have the money to attend college, so she’s made it her mission to ensure that others have the means to do so.

Each of this year’s scholarship recipients, who live or attended high school in Austin, received a $1,000 award. They were chosen based on academic achievement, financial need and community service, Wilson said.

Funds were raised by area congregations, including Third Unitarian, Unity Temple in Oak Park and Winnetka Congregational Church.

Takeeyah Liggins is the valedictorian of her class at the Academy of Scholastic Achievement and will be graduating next week. Though she’s first in her class, Liggins said her journey to get there hasn’t been easy.

With personal struggles and complications with her mother’s health, Liggins has had to step up and help care for her younger siblings, which made it hard to focus, she said.

Liggins hasn’t made a final decision about which college she’ll be attending, but she knows she wants to pursue a degree in nursing. She said she’s grateful for the scholarship.

“It makes me realize that there are people out here that don’t know me but are willing to help me reach my goals,” Liggins said.

Majestic Jordan will graduate from George Westinghouse College Prep on Thursday and plans to attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. Jordan said her mother is her motivation for pursuing a college degree.

Though Jordan’s mother attended college, she dropped out to care for her older sister, her daughter said. Jordan will be the first among her siblings to attend college and hopes to make a difference when she becomes an obstetrician.

“It’s up to me to make the paradigm change and say, ‘Guys, I can be the change once you see this degree in my hands,’” she said during her speech at Sunday’s ceremony honoring this year’s recipients.

Maurice Hatch, a graduate of Providence St. Mel School, said he will attend Northwestern University, where he plans to major in economics and minor in music.

After college, Hatch hopes to start his own songwriting company.

“It’s a great privilege to have this scholarship,” Hatch said. “This is a great reminder of where we are headed in life as to why we should work hard as we transition into the next phase of our life.”

The Austin church began the scholarship program four decades ago with the purpose of enhancing the community by educating people within the community, said Barbara Minor, a longtime member of the scholarship committee.

When the program started in 1974, the committee awarded $250 to winners, then increased it to $500. After about 20 years, the award was bumped to $1,000.

When students complete their studies, Wilson hopes they will give find a way to give back to the community.

“I want them to come back and serve this community and help somebody on the way because somebody helped them,” she said.

Here’s a list of all of the recipients and the high schools they attended:

Tayja Dean (Prosser)

Jahar English (Urban Prep West)

Wayne George (Wells)

Jordyn Harrison (Providence St. Mel)

Maurice Hatch (Providence St. Mel)

Kayla Jones (John Marshall)

Marlon Jones (John Marshall)

Majestic Jordan (Westinghouse College Prep)

David Kinsey (John Marshall)

Takeeyah Liggins  (Academy of Scholastic Achievement)

Cherelle Newsom (Wells)

LaNae Plaxico (Whitney Young)

Jordan Wallace (Westinghouse College Prep)

Ebony Wilson (Southside Baptist)

Read about last year’s winners, the 2011 recipients and the 2010 awardees.

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