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Groton - As an eighth-grader, Kai Sinclair attended the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Awards Dinner and watched as high school seniors spoke about how King's words and actions empowered them to succeed in academics and beyond. That night, she made it her mission to work tirelessly until she, too, became a scholarship recipient.
On Thursday night, in front of a packed ballroom at the Mystic Marriott, Sinclair was one of five area high school seniors who accepted a $20,000 scholarship from the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Fund.
"This was my high school goal and I finally got it," Sinclair said. "It is validating."
Sinclair, a senior at Robert E. Fitch High School in Groton, is vice president of her class, is a member of the National Honor Society and is captain of the indoor track team. She hopes to become a family doctor after studying at either Columbia University, Howard University or New York University.
Scholarship recipient Clayton Potter, a senior at the Science & Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut in New London, spoke about seeing his father read the words of King in conjunction with a Coast Guard Band performance as one of his inspirations.
"This is really when I first realized how powerful Dr. King's words were," said Potter, who serves as the appointed student member of the Connecticut State Board of Education.
He hopes to study cognitive neuroscience and endocrinology at Yale University, Harvard College or Brown University and someday open a nonprofit recreation center in his native New London. He is the son of Chuck Potter, a former reporter and columnist for The Day.
All five recipients, who were selected out of 50 applicants from local cities and towns, spoke about how they and their fellow students can emulate King's vision for a more equitable society.
"We all have the ability to make great change in the world," said Motyat "Tia" Olatunmbi, a senior at Norwich Free Academy. "We just have to go out and do it."
Olatunmbi said she wants to study international economics and corporate law at New York University, the University of Connecticut, or Bocconi University in Italy.
Khaadijah Reed, a senior at the Science & Technology Magnet High School, is president of the school's multicultural club, a member of the biomedical club, National Honor Society and the basketball team. She plans to study culinary arts at Johnson & Wales University and eventually own her own business.
"Dr. King was all about making a difference in the world, and through my education, I will do the same," she said.
Scholarship recipient Richard Dale Joseph, a senior at Norwich Free Academy, is a member of the school's varsity track and basketball teams and sings in the gospel choir. Joseph also volunteers in the Norwich NAACP and at his church. He intends to study chemical engineering at Liberty University, St. Lawrence University or the University of Connecticut.
Following King's death in 1968, former New London teacher and mayor Eunice McLean Waller and her husband, William DeHomer Waller, donated the $100 to establish the scholarship to award a student who best represented King's ideals. The scholarship evolved and has expanded ever since. So far, 122 students from southeastern Connecticut have been awarded scholarships through the fund.
• Kai Sinclair, Fitch High School: Scholarship funded by Chelsea Groton Bank.
• Clayton Potter, New London Science and Technology Magnet High School: Scholarship funded by the MLK Trust Fund.
• Khaadijah Reed, New London Science and Technology Magnet High School: Scholarship funded by the Kitchings Family Foundation.
• Richard Dale Joseph, Norwich Free Academy: Scholarship funded by The William W. Backus Hospital.
• Motyat "Tia" Olatunmbi, Norwich Free Academy: Scholarship funded by Attorney Bart A. Sayet and Lori Lindfors.