On May 20 the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR), now in its 80th year of publication, and its nonprofit namesake the MSR 501c3, hosted the 20th annual High School Graduation Celebration at the Metropolitan Ballroom located in Golden Valley. As in previous years, the Celebration echoed its traditional theme “Education and Graduation: It’s a family affair.”
The MSR has produced this graduation scholarship dinner and ceremony as a family affair, for the community or the “village family,” at no charge to the parents or graduating students, as a way of acknowledging and honoring the academic achievements of African and African American high school students who too often go underappreciated. Each year, the MSR sends out invitations to the graduating high school students in Minnesota to participate in a 500-word essay contest for the Cecil E. Newman Scholarship, which is named after the late MSR founder and publisher.
The following students were recipients of 2015 Cecil E. Newman scholarships: Renae Jackson (Academy of the Holy Angels), Jaelynne Palmer (Hopkins High School), Edwina King (Park Center High School), Jonathan Mensah (Highland Park Sr. High School), Noah Brown (Bloomington Kennedy High School), Abdi Nebi (Central High School), and Kieara Hunter-Tabb (North Community High School).
As usual, the celebration event offered more than just scholarships and dinner. It began at 3 pm with a diversity-career-resource and education expo that continued until 6 pm. Exhibitors included Metropolitan State University, The Minnesota Department of Corrections, Minneapolis Media Institute, The Minnesota Twins, National American University, Rasmussen College, Summit Academy OIC, Twin Cities Rise, 96.3 KTWIN, 89.9 KMOJ, Adler Graduate School, Argosy University – Twin Cities, Excel Energy, Metro Transit, City of St. Paul Dept. of HR / EEO, Experience Works, Mary T., Inc. and Deli Express.
The dinner and program from 6 to 9 pm began with an invocation by MSR Vice President Emeritus Norma Jean Williams. Following Williams was actor-comedian and KMOJ morning show host Shedrick Garrett, a.k.a. Shed G, who served as master of ceremonies for the evening. The 300-plus in attendance clearly enjoyed his humor, timing, and keen since of ad-lib.
The audience was further captivated by a duet ballad by Shawn Chromey-Daniels and Reyna Biondo that reminded Shed G of “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. This was followed by the powerful spoken word poetry of Fatima and Laresa. Seasoned veteran drummer Truthmaze kept the room rockin’ to the beat and his song of inspiration, and singer Cameron Wright moved the crowd with a stirring rendition of R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.”
Over the years, the MSR has recruited marquee-name entertainers as keynote speakers such as LL Cool J, Tavis Smiley, Kimberly Elise, Hill Harper and Nick Cannon, just to name a few, which helped put the annual Celebration on the local and national map. In recent years, however, MSR has recruited from local talent to address the scholarship winners and their families. Danny Givens, Jr., pastor of Above Every Name Ministries, was the keynoter this year.
Givens is known as an advocate for social change and operating a fiery young cutting-edge ministry. But after delivering the graduation Celebration keynote, he will be known as the speaker who captivated the crowd and earned a healthy standing ovation for his message “You should have a vision or someone will give you one.”
He talked about lying to his mother about a college opportunity while he was actually a dope boy, stick-up man, and working the streets until he ended up in the hospital with bullets in him from a shootout. Givens was accused of shooting a police officer and did time, turning his life around through earning a degree from St. Cloud State University while in prison.
Givens shared a story about a young man stuck in a pit as several people passed by. Each time the young man asked for help getting out of the pit, no one could help him. Finally, the last person listened to the young man’s cry and instead of helping him out jumped in with him.
The young man told his helper that he was dumb for jumping in with him because now they were both stuck. The helper said, “Don’t worry, I’ve been here before. I know my way out.”
That was the end of the story and the beginning of a three-minute standing ovation for Givens. The evening closed with the scholarship ceremony and sponsor appreciation from MSR Publisher/CEO Tracey Williams-Dillard. At that time three additional scholarships were awarded by a drawing among attending students; the winners were Asia Walker (Woodbury High School), Devontae Myers (Rosemont High School), and Oneykia Craft (Robinsdale Cooper High).
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James L. Stroud Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.