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Diversity, Equity and Inclusion|

Center for Multicultural Initiatives

icon of a calendarJune 22, 2020

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Freedom and Justice

Annual scholarship recipients reflect on their paths toward interracial understanding

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Robert Hall

Modeled after Martin Luther King’s commitment to equality, the Oakland University Center for Multicultural Initiatives established the Keeper of the Dream (KOD) scholarships in 1993 to support students who personified King’s mission. As such, this year’s seven recipients are no exception, and the group emanates goodwill as they reflect on their strides toward interracial understanding.

“Each year we recognize students who exude passion, courage and a willingness to push beyond their current boundaries,” says Omar Brown-El, senior director of the Center for Multicultural Initiatives. “This year’s recipients are the embodiment of leadership and clearly deserving of the Keeper of the Dream award.”

Zakia Ali-James, a first-generation college student from Detroit, knew she was entering unknown territory when she first came to campus, but made sure to put herself out there and get involved wherever she could. As a peer mentor for the Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI), Ali-James connects with people from all walks of life.

“Every day I try to make someone feel comfortable, whether that be from a smile, a conversation or by letting my personality shine through, because I want everyone to know how it feels to be part of an inclusive community,” Ali-James says.

Raneen Allos is also a first-generation college student. As a Chaldean American with a strong family bond, she never had the opportunity to step out of her comfort zone. With the desire to become a physical therapist, she took a leap into unfamiliar territory – a college campus.

“Coming to college was my first opportunity to become immersed in a place where I was meeting people who had different backgrounds,” Allos says. “I have seen the beauty in diversity while also recognizing the strides we must take to continue standing up for those who are marginalized and discriminated against.”

Isaias Cruz comes from a family with a strong Hispanic background, and strives to stay true to his roots while in college. He is fluent in oral and written Spanish and uses those skills to benefit others, volunteering with Los Pentecostales De Waterford Iglesia Apost.lica, as well as Personal Translations working as a scribe and translator for both institutions.

“It is crucial for us to work together, regardless of whatever label we can use to separate ourselves,” Cruz says. “A society that works together achieves more and is more efficient.”

For Maya Ford, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing at Oakland, but her unique and sometimes difficult journey here is something she wouldn’t trade for the world. Arriving on campus as a shy student, she is now a strong individual with big dreams.

“When I started out as a freshman, I was quiet and soft-spoken,” Ford says. “I developed into a leader on campus and am committed to enhancing the lives of all women. When you have a voice and it’s heard, you have unlimited potential.”

Donovan Hernandez, who grew up with a handful of challenges as an undocumented minority, knew nothing was going to stop him from pursuing his dreams. He knows that others are going through the same struggles and he is working to give them confidence to succeed.

“Using STEM and engineering to show how anyone – regardless of age, religion or sexual orientation – can succeed makes me feel proud of what I do,” Hernandez says.

Jennifer Medrano Delacruz was never promised a college education. Getting one was an expectation of her adoptive family, but she would become the first person from her biological family to attend a university. With both of her families in her corner, she knew she would do great things.

“Both families provided a support system that inspired and helped me to believe failure was not an option,” Medrano Delacruz says.

Mikal O’Neal is determined to break down cultural barriers on campus. In order to do that, she believes that everyone should accept and respect others who are not the same as themselves. A person can persevere in any situation, but O’Neal understands that having a good foundation of support is the best way to promote change.

“No matter what circumstances are at home, there is always a way for people to overcome the negative environment in which they live and break their generational curses,” O’Neal says.

“There is power in numbers, though, and power in having people in your corner and supporting you," she continues. "It’s better to have a community behind you to further push diversity.”

Discover more about
KOD and the Center for Multicultural Initiatives.

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