Keeper of the Dream
2015 Keeper of the Dream Keynote Speaker Jurnee Smollett-Bell,
Award-winning actress and activist
The Keeper of the Dream Award was established in January 1993 to recognize Oakland University students who have contributed to interracial understanding and good will.
- Applicants must demonstrate academic achievement (a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 at time of application)
- Have a clear career focus and academic persistence
- Be returning to Oakland in the fall and winter semester of the following academic year
The Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards Celebration honors the legacy of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and awards up to six scholarships to students that best demonstrate exceptional leadership qualities through their involvement on campus and in the community by breaking down racial and cultural stereotypes and by promoting unity among all people to foster a campus environment rich in diversity and multiculturalism.
It is also an opportunity to publicly recognize students who exemplify Dr. King’s vision, and to award them annual scholarships for their efforts in promoting interracial tolerance and understanding.
A steady increase in corporate contributions has made it possible to increase the initial level of awards from two $1,000 scholarships in 1993 to several $5,000 scholarships. Since its inception, over eighty students from a wide variety of academic majors have been awarded scholarships.
For more information about the award requirements, please contact the Center for Multicultural Initiatives.
Holly Robinson Peete
She is perhaps best known for her roles as Judy Hoffs on the Fox TV police drama 21 Jump Street, Vanessa Russell on the ABC sitcom Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, and Dr.Malena Ellis on the NBC/WB sitcom For Your Love. She also had a recurring role on the hit comedy CBS series Mike & Molly.
She served as one of the original five co-hosts of the CBS daytime talk show The Talk and is starring alongside her family in the highly acclaimed docu-series For Peete’s Sake on the OWN Network.
In 1997, Robinson Peete and her husband, former NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, formed the HollyRod Foundation. Her philanthropic efforts have earned her numerous awards and honors including: Ford’s Freedom Sisters, American Mentor Award, The Southern California Broadcasters’ Assoc Community Service Award, and many more.
Robinson Peete is also an accomplished author. For her first book, “Get Your Own Damn Beer, I’m Watching the Game: A Women’s Guide to Loving Pro Football” (2005 Rodale), Robinson Peete won the 2006 Quill Literacy Award and a follow up to that book “A #Crazy Football Momma’s Pocket Armchair Guide” is in the works. In 2010, she released her second book, an NAACP Image Award winning children’s book entitled “My Brother Charlie” (Scholastic) about autism from the sibling’s perspective, co-authored by her daughter, then 12-year old Ryan Elizabeth Peete. The follow up to “My Brother Charlie” is entitled “Same But Different; Teen Life on The Autism Express” (Scholastic).
Her longevity and visibility in the entertainment community has led Robinson Peete to a successful career as a trusted spokesperson for some of the country’s biggest brands. Her consumer and mom friendly personal brand has partnered with Target, Toys”R”US, Colgate, Skechers, Epipen and Carnation among many others.
|The Lynne and Lia McIntosh Scholarship|
As a student, a member of the LGBT community, a Chaldean American and a transgender man, Semma finds purpose in working with different minority groups to bring about positive change.
“I have always felt that my purpose was to help others who are less privileged than I am, and don't have the ability use their voice the way I do,” he says. “This goal has led me to advocate on behalf of the LGBT community, women, racial minorities, and many others in order to change lives for the better.”
Semma’s reputation as a thoughtful, determined leader has grown through his work in a variety of student organizations, departments and centers across campus.
He is president of OU's Gay Straight Alliance, which raises awareness by providing educational, social, political and entertainment based programming, including the Pride Prom, Trans Day of Remembrance, Coming Out Monologues and annual Drag Show; he is a past president and vice president of Voices for Choices, which promotes choice in matters relating to family planning, reproductive rights and women's health; and he is also a student assistant for the Center for Student Activities and Leadership Development, and the Gender and Sexuality Center.
Majoring in women and gender studies, Semma has excelled in his coursework and earned the respect of professors such as Julie Walters and Patricia Wren. Both offered strong support when recommending him for a Keeper of the Dream Scholarship.
“Dr. King valued working with anyone who would discuss and solve problems related to the violence and discrimination experienced by underrepresented populations,” says Walters, an associate professor in the Political Science department. “He valued equal opportunity and civil society. Jake Semma embodies the role that such peacemakers and human rights advocates had in the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century.”
Wren, professor and director of the health sciences program, calls Semma a role model for students, faculty and staff.
“I know that Jake is committed to fighting oppression, elevating the status of minority and vulnerable populations, and living a life of meaning and purpose in service to others,” Wren says. “I can think of no greater calling and no greater expression of what the Keeper of the Dream Scholarship means.”
As he progresses in his career at OU, Semma continues to advocate for social justice and help students tap into their power to change the world.
“It is crucial for students to realize that they do have a voice and they can change the world around them, if they have the resources and the courage,” he says. “I believe that if more students realized that they can create change, we would be much better off.”
“Realizing how much of a cultural meeting ground college was sparked my passion for diversity. I recognized that cultural barriers could be broken with something as simple as conversation,” he says. “I have encouraged my peers to challenge their own ethnocentric views by seeking further knowledge through dialogue.”
Currington, a psychology major, founded the OU chapter of Actively Moving Forward (AMF), a student organization that focuses on supporting bereaved college students. Partnering with campus offices, including the Dean of Students, Student Congress, the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, Gender and Sexuality Center, and Counseling Center, the group provides students with a safe, nonjudgmental environment to work through issues of grief and loss.
Currington’s efforts have positively impacted the entire OU community, according to David Schwartz, psychologist and director of OU’s Counseling Center. He noted that AMF has not only helped “reduce the stigma that is all too often associated with grief and loss,” but it has also “made great strides in changing the culture on OU’s campus and made it a safer place for all students.”
Mary Eberly Lewis, associate professor of psychology, says that Currington brings “humanness and compassion” to people of all ethnicities.
“Alex recognizes that people of all ethnicities face losses of love ones, be they from inner cities, suburbs or rural areas,” Lewis says. “All students who must cope with the loss of a parent, friend, grandparent or other relative need support as they simultaneously adapt to a new environment.”
Though Lewis first met Currington during his first semester at OU, their initial contact came when she visited his high school to recruit teens for a study she was conducting on adolescent prosocial behavior.
“Not only did Alex participate at the time, but he contacted me once he arrived at OU to learn more about the study,” Lewis says. “During his first two years at OU, we have gone from two to three casual mentoring meetings during his first year to him joining my lab and being an integral part of the team.”
Maintaining a 3.8 GPA, Currington is also a recipient of the Oakland University Trustee Academic Success award and a member of the Golden Key International Honour Society. Additionally, he is a peer mentor for the Center for Multicultural Initiatives and has completed training in Grizzlies Response: Awareness and Suicide Prevention (GRASP) and S.A.F.E. LGBTIQA Ally education initiatives.
Lewis views him as an ideal candidate for the Keeper of the Dream Scholarship.
“I truly believe that Alex lives his life consistent with what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. implored,” says Lewis. “He treats people with respect and dignity, with kindness and compassion, and with humor and friendliness. Most important, however, is his ability to welcome questions, offer support to others and raise up his fellow students.”
The experience taught him as much about himself as it did about the world.
“By the time I had moved back here, I had to re-apply all that I had learned while dealing with the jarring transition,” Tiwari says. “In doing so, I learned that I was someone who was critically aware of what made the world around them tick.”
The values of self-awareness and empathy toward others have helped Tiwari emerge as a leader at Oakland University, where he has served on Student Congress committees for diversity and inclusion, and legislative affairs. He’s also a peer mentor for OU’s Center for Multicultural Initiatives and a past vice president of the College Democrats chapter.
In these roles, Tiwari balances a strong passion for his beliefs with a healthy respect for others. His professors have recognized his inclusive approach in the classroom.
Hunter Vaughan, who has taught Tiwari in a cinema studies class and serves as faculty adviser for the College Democrats chapter, says Tiwari “often acts as a diplomatic balance for contrasting points of view, helping to synthesize diverse points of view and to lead the class in a progressive direction.”
While taking a political campaigns class, Tiwari’s willingness to accommodate his classmates during a team project drew praise from course instructor Michael Switalski.
“When the other team floundered at times, due to absences or lack of background in the materials, Adi volunteered to switch teams to even out the competition,” Switalski explains. “Even though he was strongly committed to his party and ideology, he was able to put those feelings aside in the interests of improving educational outcomes for everyone in the class.”
After choosing environmental science as his major, Tiwari saw a chance to reach across social boundaries and find common ground with his peers. He took the opportunity to “show commitment to the idea that this is our shared home, which must be protected by all people, no matter their backgrounds.”
Tiwari puts his beliefs into action by serving as vice president of the Ecology Club at OU. He engages those around him with the goal of creating a better world for current and future generations.
“In a world where division is a silent social norm, I work to build bridges and dispel misunderstandings,” he says. “I hope the little steps I take, and encourage my peers to take, will help to create a better world for those who follow us.
Equal access is an issue close to Daryl Blackburn's heart, so when he saw the need for an automatic door opener, he took action.
“I was inspired to make a change for people with disabilities, so I did,” says Blackburn, a human resource development major and resident assistant. “I met with multiple people and offices about accessibility on campus and equal opportunity.”
Residence Director Gabe Dumbrille says that Blackburn's efforts addressed a vital issue.
“The Nightwatch door was controlled by an interior button, which meant that disabled students who needed access to Hamlin Hall during Nightwatch hours would have to wait in the cold until they were noticed, or until someone else got the door for them,” Dumbrille says. “Someone did notice them, and that someone was Daryl.”
Blackburn's support for equal access is fueled in large part by his devotion to family.
“Having a sister who is wheelchair-bound has exposed me to a lot,” he says. “Because of this, I pay very close attention to our community and its accessibility.”
Since coming to Oakland, Blackburn continues to open doors for others through his commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a CORE Ambassador in OU's Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI), Blackburn mentors first-year students during weekly one-on-one sessions to assess academic progress and provide information about campus resources.
He has also collaborated with CMI staff members to offer diversity programs to campus residents. One of the most popular programs Blackburn started is “Got MLK?,” which celebrates the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Knowing that many of the students I would be working with knew very little about diversity and inclusion, I used this as my starting point to make a difference,” Blackburn explains. “I planned many programs around diversity and privilege, while bringing in CMI professionals to share their knowledge.”
Last February, Blackburn was part of a student group who volunteered at Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. This was part of an Alternative Spring Break experience through OU's Center for Student Activities and Leadership Development. But it also marked a homecoming of sorts for Blackburn, who had visited the resort as a young child facing a serious medical diagnosis.
“Daryl wanted to volunteer and give back to the village because he was a former guest,” says Jasmine Bailey, who served as an adviser on the trip. “He served with humility, love and much gratitude.”
As Blackburn’s life has been touched by the kindness of others, he shows kindness to all who cross his path.
“Daryl changes the lives of everyone he meets,” Dumbrille says. “He embodies advocacy for those who are struggling, and he finds them solutions and provides a forum for their voice to be heard.”
The Detroit Cass Tech graduate says that coming from an environment “where diversity was pretty much unheard of” can present a culture shock.
With support from the Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI), Chillis has established herself as a leader and scholar on campus through her work as a CMI peer mentor, Circle of Sisterhood member and president of the Nu Phi Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at OU.
“The final line of our sorority’s mission statement is ‘To be of service to all mankind,’ she says. “Service is the most selfless act.”
Consistent with its mission, the group has performed outreach activities in Detroit and the surrounding area through Grace Centers of Hope, Gleaners Food Bank and OU Day of Service.
Along with these efforts, Chillis also serves as social media chair of OU’s Black Student Nurse Association chapter. The organization provides an outlet for black nursing students to share ideas and interface with other nursing organizations. The group recently collaborated with OU’s Student Nurse Association and School of Nursing to host a town hall meeting during which nursing students voiced their opinions about diversity and inclusion in the school.
The event made an impact on many students, Chillis recalls, citing one student in particular.
“A white male student lingered after the discussion and let us know, 'It’s not that I didn’t care, I just didn’t know,'” Chillis says. “This small but powerful statement brought forth a very important reminder that bringing awareness to situations is key.”
Faculty and staff have taken note of Chillis’s high ethical standards and compassion for others – fitting traits for a future nursing professional. Sarah Mullin, who taught Chillis in a freshman communications class, noticed her leadership potential immediately.
“The entire class was extremely impacted by her ability to overcome personal challenges she and her family had experienced, and we were impressed by the vulnerability required to share those things with us,” Mullin says. “Ashley's vulnerability helped bring unity to our class as other students followed her example.”
Chillis has also made her presence felt as a member of the African American Celebration Month Committee, Vandenberg Hall House Council Executive Board and Oakland University Telefund.
Stephanie Lee, assistant to the provost in OU’s Office of Academic Affairs, gives Chillis her highest recommendation for the Keeper of the Dream Scholarship.
“I have seen nearly everything Ashley touches succeed because she has touched it,” Lee says. “She hits the ground running and is quick to become a productive community leader. She will represent the Keeper of the Dream Award with grace, dignity and high integrity.”
Gabriela Saenz uses this metaphor to define her leadership philosophy.
“This could mean to literally kindle or keep a fire going, but it could also mean to kindle a fire or passion for a cause or belief,” she explains. “Being a student leader, I have found that leading with kindness not only helps me, but it helps others see right from wrong in a clear, simple way.”
Saenz cultivates a spirit of kindness in her work as a resident assistant and orientation group leader, helping to foster an atmosphere of acceptance and mutual respect. When hurtful words are spoken, the psychology major intervenes with a calm and gentle approach.
“Not only does kindness make students feel comfortable, but it also opens doors for the students,” Saenz says. “By opening doors, I mean they are able to learn from their mistake in a positive way without feeling bad about themselves. Every student that walks through the doors of Oakland University is the new fire that we all need to kindle in order to keep making a difference.”
Residence Director Barbara Kayster credits Saenz for the positive influence she brings in encouraging respectful discussion of sensitive topics.
“Everywhere she goes, Gaby brings with her a loving, bright spirit that seeks to educate,” Kayster says. “Gaby has the rare ability to bring awareness and attention to difficult topics, while allowing an open dialogue to happen. If more people could approach learning and teaching from a place of love, I know this world would be a better place.”
Saenz has spread kindness on Oakland's campus and beyond. She volunteers for Care House of Oakland County, providing care and mentorship to abused and neglected children. In addition, she takes pride in her Native American heritage, working to educate the public about tribal customs and the preservation of sacred sites.
“She has helped feed and care for the elderly in her tribe … and also takes time to learn more about the traditions and teachings of her people,” Kayster adds.
Since diabetes is common among Native Americans, Saenz often educates children with diabetes about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and using insulin regularly. In her hometown of Muskegon, Saenz has volunteered for the United Way of the Lakeshore, Kids’ Food Basket and Edgewood Elementary.
Though kindness is her calling card, Saenz isn't afraid to be a fierce advocate for those who need one. James Zentmeyer, director of University Housing, has worked closely with Saenz during her two years as a resident assistant. He's observed her care and compassion for the residents and staff members who depend on her.
“If you need a voice because you are too timid to be heard, Gaby will be your roaring lion,” Zentmeyer says. “If you are feeling wounded and vulnerable, Gaby will be your shield and protection until you are ready to stand on your own two feet. You cannot walk away from an encounter with Gaby without feeling her passion and concern.”
“Being an African-American female, I was not taught I was beautiful,” says McCullough. “I was taught that my hair was too coarse, and that my skin was too dark. My race was the reason I was blind to my own beauty. It was race that caused me to dislike what I saw in the mirror, and it was race that caused me to shun anyone different from me.”
Through years of diversity training and education, she embraced a new way of thinking that changed her life from the inside out.
“Change allowed me to love myself and provide a space in my heart to love those different than me,” she says. “I believe that when you are comfortable with yourself, you give others the freedom to be the same way.”
Her beliefs are reflected in her work as a peer mentor in the Center for Multicultural Initiatives and Pre-College Programs.
Kendra Agee, coordinator of Pre-College Programs, says McCullough's commitment to self-understanding allows her to be an effective leader in shaping the lives of young students.
“One of the things that stands out about Shayla is her desire to be a support to others by creating an inclusive environment for students of any background,” Agee says. “Her ambition to continue to grow and learn more about herself provides her with a diverse lens, which she uses to empower the pre-college students she works with.”
McCullough's dedication is also evident in her strong academic record. She is a recipient of the Oakland University Trustee Academic Success Scholarship and a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society. She strives for excellence as she pursues a degree in Wellness, Health Promotion and Injury Prevention.
“She is quiet and humble, yet leads with confidence, conviction and composure,” says Jean Ann Miller, director of the Center for Student Activities and Leadership Development. “She is fearless to pursue new challenges and enhance her skills to be a successful professional in her field.”
Recently, McCullough joined the Zeta Sigma Chi Multicultural Sorority, whose motto is “Keeping the Dream Alive.” As the only multicultural sorority on campus, the group consists of members from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. For McCullough, it proved to be a perfect fit.
“I fell in love with the idea of having sisters that are different from me, that want to embrace change, just like me,” she says. “We believe in a sisterhood without borders, and breaking down cultural barriers. We come from many different facets of life, but we fall under one sisterhood.”
Working with stakeholders from both communities, Engnell organized an OU Day of Service – which he named “Perfect the Parks” – as part of an effort to combat blight within the city. He is also the founder of Leaders of the Future, a nonprofit that supports Pontiac through youth volunteerism.
“Anders believes in civic engagement and opportunity for all students, and he especially believes that Pontiac is a city worth serving,” says Diane Baldwin, project coordinator for the OU/Pontiac Partnership. “This is no small thing, to bring hope and faith to Pontiac.”
Pontiac was also on Engnell's mind when he spearheaded an effort to enhance OU's tuition policy so that undocumented students who were raised in Michigan could pay in-state tuition rates.
After researching tuition policies at other schools and compiling statistics on the number of undocumented students in the tri-county area, Engnell – a mathematics and creative writing double major – made the case for tuition equality to campus leaders. His proposal was eventually approved.
“I had the opportunity to speak about the experiences of my undocumented friends in Pontiac in front of a selection of OU’s top faculty and staff, and I was amazed by how receptive they were to the stories I had to tell,” he recalls.
Engnell’s leadership skills were also recognized in his work with OU's Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Patricia Dolly, senior adviser to the president on diversity, equity and inclusion, describes him as “bright, skilled and eager to learn and lead here at OU and in the community.”
“He was a very active member of the Diversity Council and his key accomplishment was getting the preferred name policy established,” says Dolly. OU recently instituted this policy, which allows individuals to add their preferred first name to university records.
For the 2015 African American Celebration Month, Engnell helped create “A Walk Through History,” a multimedia exhibit highlighting achievements of African Americans.
“From my experiences, I learned that the OU community is full of action-oriented people,” Engnell says. “I will always be glad to say that I am an alum of a university that did not just talk about change, but supported those like myself who were on the front lines of the fight to make college accessible and welcoming to all.”
|2017||Holly Robinson Peete|
Actress, author, talk show host, activist and philanthropist
Actor, director and author
Award-winning actress and activist
Oscar-winning producer and director
Shark Tank star and entrepreneur
Rapper, author, activist
|2011||Lou Gossett Jr.|
Founder, Eracism Foundation
|2010||Susan L. Taylor|
Editor Emeritus, Essence magazine
Founder, National Cares
Actor, producer, human rights activist
Human rights activist and entertainer
|2007||Ruby Dee||Sean Buono|
|2006||Former Ambassador Andrew Young||Nerissa Brown|
|2005||Coretta Scott King||Sheila L. Brooks|
Andrew W. Gaines
Kathryn M. Miller
Jameelah M. Muhammad
Ashley K. Seal
|2004||Daniel G. Mulhern|
First Gentleman of Michigan
George Davis III
|2003||Edsel B. Ford|
Ford Motor Company
|Crystal D. Allen|
Steven D. Townsend
Crystal A. Wilkerson
|2002||Martin Luther King III|
President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
|Ashli C. Bobo|
Rhonda R. Hanna
Joi C. Olden
Diana L. Pochmara
Vice-President, Worldwide Purchasing &
North American Operations
General Motors Corporation
|Angel D. Guy|
Brian S. Jaye
Ann R. Lefkowitz
|2000||Robert N. Cooper|
President, Ameritech Michigan
|Annie O. Chung|
Bonefacio F. De La Rosa
LaShanda P. Evans
Kristin J. Kouba
Razzaaq S. McConner
Aniesha K. Mitchell
Tamarcus D. Southward
Ralph E. Williams, II
Mychal C. Thom
Chairman, The Bing Group
|Jerry W. Autry, II|
Adrienne D. Carter
Ronald L. Howell, Jr.
Shawn R. McLernon
Shaunda N. Scruggs
Natasha P. Vanover
|1998||Robert J. Eaton|
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Doron M. Elliott
Dedra L. McGlory
|1997||William C. Brooks|
Vice President, Corporate Affairs
General Motors Corporation
|1996||Father William T. Cunningham|
Executive Director, FOCUS: Hope
Kelly M. Schehr
|1995||Denise Langford Morris|
Judge, Oakland County Circuit Court
Gregory Sharp, Jr.
|1994||Conrad Mallett, Jr.|
Associate Justice, Michigan Supreme Court
then mayoral candidate, City of Detroit