Thirteen honored with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarships at annual dinner

Groton — The first of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship winners to speak, Ariannah Black, approached the podium in front of 600-plus people and pronounced the letter “n,” slowly spelling out the remaining five letters of a racist slur.

“This is what appeared on my screen, a joke sent by my friend,” the Marine Science Magnet High School senior said. “In a cafeteria full of 80 students, I was alone.”

But Black said that even though she felt bruised and alone, she found her voice in Dr. King’s. The straight-A student, Student of the Month, crew team member and church toddler-room assistant now plans to study computer science — and she will be doing so with the help of a $20,000 scholarship.

She is one of 13 high school seniors of color — up from 12 last year, and nine the year before — to receive the scholarship; the students were honored at the 38th Annual Scholarship Dinner at the Mystic Marriott on Thursday night.

The recognition of each student followed the same format: A video of the student played, the scholarship sponsor — such as Pfizer or Kitchings Family Foundation — announced the student, and the student spoke, culminating in thanking their family, which often resulted in teary eyes in the audience.

“If Dr. King was alive today, I think he would definitely fight against everything that’s happening, especially with the immigration laws” and what’s happening in schools, Science and Technology Magnet High School of Southeastern Connecticut senior Aaliyah Staten said.

She spoke of her aunt and cousin being murdered when she was 2, and how she wants to become a lawyer and fight domestic violence.

Another Science and Technology Magnet student honored was Sara Beth Bouchard, a finalist in the Connecticut Science and Engineering Fair, GENIUS Olympiad bronze medalist, dance performer, sailing instructor and volunteer at Camp Harkness. She wants to become an immunologist.

Norwich Free Academy has five scholarship recipients, the most of any school: Allen Dufort, Alexander Dufort, Krishna Patel, Laika Bertrand and Errien Williams.

The Dufort brothers are both members of the National Science Honor Society and math team, are involved with the NAACP Youth Council and Reading Buddies, and traveled to Haiti this past summer to help the poor. Allen intends to study computer science, while Alexander plans to become a public defender.

In his speech, Allen Dufort recalled, “In eighth grade, a classmate told me, ‘You’re the whitest black kid I know.’ I was disappointed in myself for not being black enough.” But he came to regard this saying as “utter nonsense.”

Also active in the NAACP Youth Council and Reading Buddies is Bertrand, who was named Most Valuable Debater in NFA’s debate club and is NFA Poet Laureate 2019. She intends to study structural engineering and wants to build energy-efficient homes.

Patel has volunteered in the community at Otis Library, Yale New Haven Hospital, Middlesex Shoreline Medical Center and Sheltering Arms Nursing Home, and she plans to study medicine.

Williams is a member of the Spanish, Science and National honor societies, and volunteers at the Norwich Arts Festival, in Reading Buddies and in the Bridges Summer Learning Program. Her goal is to become a pediatric surgeon.

Stonington High School senior Emma DeLaRosa describes herself as “Latina, loud and proud,” and plans to study communications and political science. She represented her school at the National Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C., and teaches children at the Musicians Co-op of Mystic.

Tajeah Winston is involved in Key Club, More Than Words, the yearbook, the school newspaper, basketball, volleyball and track at Ledyard High School. She wants to attend the University of Connecticut or University of North Carolina and be an anesthesiologist.

At Fitch High School, Melissa Mancuso participates in More Than Words, student council and track. A YMCA volunteer and black belt in martial arts, she intends to become a neurosurgeon.

Ajia Brown is a Marine Science Magnet High School senior who is the student body and class president at his school, and serves as captain of the varsity basketball, cross country and track teams at Fitch High School. He hopes to study mechanical engineering at Harvard, Stanford or Howard.

Montville High School senior Ashley Seldon is president of student government, editor of the school newspaper, a recipient of a New York Times summer internship, a volunteer with Read Across America and the Chris Murphy Fellowship, and an aspiring English teacher.

Scholarship Trust Fund President James Mitchell explained that recipients are determined based on academic performance, citizenship, community service and financial need.

The trust fund has awarded 180 scholarships since its inception in 1968. This year, Pfizer was the platinum sponsor for the dinner and The Day was the gold sponsor.

e.moser@theday.com

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