U-High students win Martin Luther King Jr. Award

Owen Piker, Reporter

The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Ceremony, which is held annually by the town of Normal, welcomed two students from University High School this year. 

This year’s Youth “I Have A Dream” award recipients were senior Erica Rosenberger and junior Cana Brooks.

Nominations were submitted for students all across Bloomington-Normal who, according to the program, “demonstrate commitment to improving cooperation and fostering mutual respect among people of different racial, ethnic, religious and other backgrounds.” 

The nominee must demonstrate strong academic achievement while also showing involvement in the community. The process included the commissioners reviewing the nominations and determining the award winner. The nominations highlight students’ academic virtues and accomplishments completed in the past year to better the community.

Mary Aplington, a mentor of Not in Our School since 2014,  is one of many who nominate students every year for this award.

“I work to ensure that every single person in every school is safe,” Aplington said of her work with NIOS. “In my interaction with the students, my perspective is to always find opportunities to be a leader and to support them while making sure that students have what they need to accomplish things.”

This year’s MLK program which is usually held in person was instead held virtually due to COVID-19 precautions. 

“When the ceremony is in person, there is a sense of community. It is more pronounced, usually a big gathering, walking around, talking to people, a community that is invested in keeping the story of MLK going. That almost visceral feeling is not there this year. When we’re on Zoom it’s a lot different; we don’t have that sense of community,” Aplington said. 

After two meetings, I knew that Erica was a leader

— Mary Aplington

The “I Have A Dream” award is presented to those who embody the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Loving others, caring for others, being a leader, improving cooperation, and fostering mutual respect among all people are factors that go into choosing the recipients of this award. The winners of the award presented pre-recorded speeches which were shared through the ceremony’s live stream. 

Erica Rosenberger received the award for her community work, which included restarting the branch of NIOS at U-High. She is involved in many clubs and organizations, some of which include acting as leader of the NIOS Steering Committee and is President of the National Honor Society. Rosenberger was nominated by Aplington whom she has worked with through NIOS since she was a sophomore.

“After two meetings, I knew that Erica was a leader,” Aplington said. “Erica is thoughtful, she has absolute integrity, she knows what she believes in, and she is never swayed by pressure from other people.” 

“At the time I was nominated, I didn’t know what the award was,” Rosenberger said. 

“To me, I think that this award is a way of recognizing people in support of bettering the community. It goes as a universal statement that it is important to do things for others,” Rosenberger said. “I was lucky enough to receive it [the award] this year.”

Junior Cana Brooks was the other  U-High recipient of this award. Brooks is involved in different organizations including Black Student Union, Rhoer’s club, and the NAACP youth council. She also participates in school activities such as tennis, track, and band. 

“The award is about how a person represents Martin Luther King Jr, [Someone] who has taken their leadership and service skills in the community, and spread that word like he did.” Brooks said, “You did all this but how can you still do more?”