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How will ten Champaign County high schoolers continue Dr. King’s dream? Through environmental, health and housing justice.

A young woman with Afro puffs and a plaid shirt smiles at the camera.
Urbana High School senior Kristan Howell says she plans to promote affordable, quality housing as a real estate agent and businesswoman.

URBANA — Ten high schoolers from across Champaign County won scholarships on Monday in the name of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

The scholarships were announced at the 38th annual Martin Luther King Unity Breakfast, held at the Vineyard Church in Urbana. 

Each of this year’s Dr. King Scholarship winners has their own plan to continue his legacy – from affordable housing to therapy for all.

“I did not grow up the most wealthy, so I know how hard it can be to find good housing on a budget,” says scholarship winner Kristan Howell. 

The Urbana High School senior volunteers with Habitat for Humanity and Salt & Light Ministries. She says she plans to connect clients to quality, affordable housing as a real estate agent and businesswoman.

Howell would like to attend the University of Illinois, Northern Illinois University or Illinois State University next year.

Three decades of giving

The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr Advocacy for Justice Committee awarded the scholarships. Each scholarship is $1,000 per year for a four-year degree.

The committee has, by its own accounting, given out over 400 scholarships since 1988.

Representatives from the cities of Champaign and Urbana, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a variety of churches make up the committee. The donations for the scholarship come from faith organizations, businesses and individuals, according to the committee’s website.

“Education is the key to getting employment, as we know, but it is also key to having the ability to critically think for yourself,” says committee member Jeff Trask.

Trask cited racial gaps in who completes college.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, about 38 percent of Black students and 56 percent of Hispanic students complete Bachelor’s degrees within six years – compared to about 70 percent of their white peers.

“One of many reasons why they don’t make it is for financial reasons. So let’s not make that one of the reasons why our students don’t make it through,” Trask says.

Students win the scholarship through academic success, community service and an essay.

Students pursue environmental and health equity

A young woman in a striped sweater looks at the camera.
Centennial High School senior Tara Armas says she plans to promote clean energy through her career. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

In addition to Urbana senior Kristan Howell, nine others won scholarships on Monday.

Centennial High School senior Tara Armas says she plans to promote environmentally-friendly energy sources and environmental justice.

“My vision for the future is that everyone has access to the things that will help them live a long and healthy life — the air is going to be clean and what they’re eating is going to be clean,” Armas says.

Armas would like to attend Cornell College, Beloit College, Oregon State University or the University of Illinois next year.

Another winner, Urbana High School senior Halie Thompson, says she plans to become a therapist. 

“I want to branch out and help as many people as possible, potentially in a nonprofit, to get people the mental health that they need and deserve,” says scholarship winner Halie Thompson.

Thompson says she learned during an internship how much inadequate insurance can prevent access to therapy. This prompted her to consider joining a nonprofit therapy group after she finishes school.

Thompson is deciding between the University of Illinois, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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