Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI)

North Foundation Hall, Room 104
318 Meadow Brook Road
Rochester, MI 48309
(location map)
(248) 370-4404

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. - 5 p.m
Wednesdays with extended hours: 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

Keeper of the Dream

Keeper of the Dream

Please join us on Monday, January 21, 2019, at 11:30 a.m. in the Oakland Center Founders Ballrooms for the annual Keeper of the Dream Scholarship Awards Celebration, during which we will recognize the 2019 recipients.

Doors open at 10:30 a.m. No tickets required. Seating is on a first-come basis.

2019 Keynote Speaker

Jeff Johnson

Jeff Johnson is an award-winning journalist and communications specialist who provides strategic insight and messaging consulting to clients in the private, public and entertainment sectors. In addition to his partnership with Dix & Eaton, Johnson serves as a managing principal of the Baltimore-based strategy firm JIJ Communications, where his client list includes Fortune 500 companies, political institutions and celebrities.

Over the last two decades, Johnson has developed expertise in communications, political engagement and strategic consulting to create a unique career committed to developing organizational solutions and systemic change. He calls it double bottom-line impact and is dedicated to creating it for his clients.

Johnson is a master storyteller and developer of messages who’s as comfortable in front of the camera as he is behind the scenes developing strategy and messages for his clients. He recently conducted interviews with both former President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton for BET News and provides regular content on the nationally syndicated Rickey Smiley Morning Show.

Johnson co-wrote Steve Harvey’s New York Times best-seller, Act Like a Success, Think Like a Success. He developed content and managed distribution across all the media giant’s social media platforms, increasing Harvey’s overall social media footprint by 30 percent.

Johnson’s an especially astute strategist and provided leadership for the City of Cleveland’s communications strategy surrounding the 2016 Republican National Convention. His firm has also developed a system to transition companies’ Employee Resource Groups to Business Resources Groups, a process that can significantly improve diversity and inclusion (D&I) programs, recruitment and development, HR effectiveness and overall revenue.



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 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.


Scholarship Sponsors

Marshall Family
The Lynne and Lia McIntosh Scholarship
OU Alumni
OU Stacked Sail CU
Keybank Foundation
Saint Joseph Mercy Health System
Flagstar Bank

Unity Sponsors

Willis Towers Watson
2018Ed Gordon
Emmy Award winning broadcaster
Lakaysha Mitchell
Blake Walton
Kessia Graves
Obadah Asbahi
Hansen Karyakose
Farrah Sitto
Michela Manga
2017Holly Robinson Peete
Actress, author, talk show host, activist and philanthropist
Jacob Semma
Alex Currington
Aditya Tiwari
Daryl Blackburn
Ashley Chillis
Gabriela Saenz
Shayla McCullough
Anders Engnell
2016Levar Burton
Actor, director and author
Christina Root
Carlie Austin
Tasha Tinglan
Myshia Liles-Moultrie
Betira Shahollari
2015Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Award-winning actress and activist 
Joseph Kirma
Zienab Fahs
Chanel Daniels
Aukury Cowart
Taylor Moore 
2014Lee Daniels
Oscar-winning producer and director
Raya Hollis
Paul Marvin
Yen Tran
Daniel Lewis
La'Asia Johnson
2013Daymond John
Shark Tank star and entrepreneur
Steven Wynne
Charlie Lapastora
Bria Ellis
Rapper, author, activist
Ben Eveslage
Subha Hanif
Tara Michener
2011Lou Gossett Jr.
Oscar-winning actor
Founder, Eracism Foundation
Emily Tissot
Gerald Son
Rodrina Moore
Aiana Scott
2010Susan L. Taylor
Editor Emeritus, Essence magazine
Founder, National Cares
Mentoring Movement
Chelsea Grimmer
Juquatta Brewer
Melissa DeGrandis
2009Danny Glover
Actor, producer, human rights activist
Norris Chase
Lisa Daily
Jasmine Rudolph
Relando Thompkins
2008Harry Belafonte
Human rights activist and entertainer
Latonia Garrett
Ronée Harvey
Denise Jones
Avery Neale
Yakela Roberson
Jinae Stoudemire
2007Ruby DeeSean Buono
Kwame Everett
Matthew Kelly
Aaron Kochenderfer
Brandon Svenson
Tiffanye Teagarden
2006Former Ambassador Andrew YoungNerissa Brown
Margaret DeGrandis
Kirbionne Fletcher
Michael Lerchenfeldt
2005Coretta Scott KingSheila L. Brooks
Andrew W. Gaines
Kathryn M. Miller
Jameelah M. Muhammad
Ashley K. Seal
2004Daniel G. Mulhern
First Gentleman of Michigan
Lenny Compton
George Davis III
Joi Durant
James Ellout
Sophia Soldana
2003Edsel B. Ford
Ford Motor Company
Crystal D. Allen
Steven D. Townsend
Crystal A. Wilkerson
Sumeera Younis
2002Martin Luther King III
President, Southern Christian Leadership Conference
Ashli C. Bobo
Rhonda R. Hanna
Joi C. Olden
Diana L. Pochmara

Special Recognition:
Erin Liebner
2001Harold Kutner
Vice-President, Worldwide Purchasing &
North American Operations
General Motors Corporation
Angel D. Guy
David Mackinder
Brian S. Jaye
Kimberly Lavan
Ann R. Lefkowitz
2000Robert 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

Special Recognition:
Mychal C. Thom
1999Dave Bing
Chairman, The Bing Group
Jerry W. Autry, II
Adrienne D. Carter
Ronald L. Howell, Jr.
Shawn R. McLernon
Shaunda N. Scruggs
Natasha P. Vanover
1998Robert J. Eaton
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Chrysler Corporation
Delano Davis
Jermaine Evans
Lisa Gregg
Renique Quick
Alysia Roberson
Doron M. Elliott
Dedra L. McGlory
1997William C. Brooks
Vice President, Corporate Affairs
General Motors Corporation
Carla Sabbagh
Tierra Stamps
1996Father William T. Cunningham
Executive Director, FOCUS: Hope
Bridget Green
Kelly M. Schehr
1995Denise Langford Morris
Judge, Oakland County Circuit Court
Natascha Nunn
Gregory Sharp, Jr.
1994Conrad Mallett, Jr.
Associate Justice, Michigan Supreme Court
1993Dennis Archer
then mayoral candidate, City of Detroit
Alicia Cunningham-Sampson
Lisa McRipley
Blake Walton
Blake Walton envisions a future in which people are judged not by “stereotypes, generalizations and circumstances,” but by the quality of their character. The criminal justice major from Grand Rapids has shown himself to be among Oakland’s best exemplars of strong character through his relentless compassion and care for others.  

He’s made a mark through involvement in student organizations, including the Oakland University Student Congress, Center for Multicultural Initiatives, Muslim Student Association and Association of Black Students. During the 2016-17 academic year, he served as philanthropy chair of OU’s Residence Hall Association, coordinating fundraising initiatives to help the surrounding community.  

“This position often serves the role of the heart and the conscience of our Residence Hall Association,” says University Housing Director James Zentmeyer. “Blake was very adept not only in his ability to point out need in our local community, but also to point out what each member of our community could contribute.”  

Under Walton’s leadership, the RHA partnered with Humble Designs, an organization that helps Pontiac residents transition out of homeless shelters by providing furnishing and design services for their new homes. The RHA hosted four fundraising events that raised more than $2,000 and collected more than 300 school supplies, 50 home decorations and 25 blankets for individuals and families in need.  

“I recognized that charitable contributions are universal,” Walton says. “When opening up one’s heart to those in less fortunate circumstances, we must lose sight of elements of difference.” Walton also volunteers for Cass Community Social Services, a Detroit-based agency that provides food, housing, health services, and job programs, as well as Fleece and Thank You, a nonprofit started by an OU alum that provides fleece blankets and personalized video messages to children in the hospital.  

“Blake shows an ability to advocate for those who cannot always advocate for themselves,” says Katherine Johnson, residence director of Oak View Hall. “When there is a cause Blake is passionate about, he will stop at nothing to make others aware of that cause and gain their support.”
Farrah Sitto
In December 2016, biology major Farrah Sitto was one of 31 students in Oakland University’s Global Medical Brigades chapter who provided medical assistance to underserved communities in Nicaragua. The experience was transformative, not just for the people who received much-needed medical care, but for the students, who gleaned life-changing lessons in diversity and cultural understanding.  

“We each came onto the trip with fixed ideas about other races and cultures, but experience forced us to change our thoughts about each other,” Sitto says.   Sitto, who is Arabic and fluent in four languages, says that as the group members learned more about each other, friendships developed in place of harmful preconceptions. She recalls an interaction with one group member, whose views had evolved during the trip.  

“She told me that by the end of the trip she had a new outlook on Arabic people,” Sitto says. “The negative stereotypes she had held previously were dispelled.” Along with her involvement in Global Medical Brigades, Sitto is cofounder of Oakland’s Premedical Volunteer Society (PMVS). This student organization focuses on serving people from different backgrounds, including the underprivileged, adults and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, children with disabilities, and hospital patients and their families. One of the ways that students contribute is by serving meals at Grace Centers of Hope. Sitto recounted her experience with one student who was reluctant to volunteer because of a belief that homeless people “did it to themselves and should have chosen the right path.”  

Sitto says, “I urged her to come with me anyway, and she heard the stories of some of the people there. When I learned that she now continues to volunteer at the soup kitchen outside of PMVS, I felt a sense of pride that through my leadership in the organization, she had left her old stereotypical thoughts behind.”  

Sitto’s professors have noted her ability to bridge the divide between people with differing views and experiences.  

“Farrah always serves as a mediating force when students have opposing views, helping everyone to stay on task, get along and reach consensus,” says Juan Martínez Millán, visiting professor of Spanish. “She is respected for her academic achievements and esteemed for her ability to selflessly bring out the best in others.”
Hansen Karyakose
For someone who once thought he “wasn’t cut out” to be a leader, Hansen Karyakose has amassed an impressive record of achievements. From serving as treasurer of Oakland’s Gay Straight Alliance, a peer mentor in the Center for Multicultural Initiatives (CMI) and a leadership consultant in the Center for Student Activities and Leadership Development, Karyakose has come a long way from earlier days in which he described himself as an “observer,” who minded his own business.    

Now, he works tirelessly to remedy injustice and create a more inclusive atmosphere for all. His journey to advocacy started in his freshman year when he worked for OU’s Gender and Sexuality Center. This experience motivated him to run for treasurer of the Gay Straight Alliance, a role in which he facilitated programs such as “The Coming Out Monologues,” which gave people the opportunity to voice struggles they had faced coming out as members of the LGBTQ community.  

“I dedicated over a year to a center and organization whose success meant the world to me,” says Karyakose, a social work major and member of the Honors College. “If I impacted just one life during my term, the time was well spent.”  

As his leadership skills grew, he was recommended to become a CMI peer mentor, an opportunity he fully embraced.  

“I thought to myself, ‘this is the opportunity I have been waiting for,” he said. “With the training and knowledge I received, I am now able to provide support for not only my mentees, but other individuals I come into contact with.”  

In addition, Karyakose is a desk attendant for University Housing and serves as vice president of OU’s chapter of the National Residence Hall Honorary. Beyond his work at Oakland, he also volunteers at Sandcastles, a nonprofit that provides grief support to children and families.   Stephanie Brandimarte, director of field and student support in OU’s social work program, says that this type of work requires someone with self-awareness and understanding of grief issues, especially in children.  

“It takes a mature, compassionate, flexible, engaging person to work with children who are grieving, and to recognize that children grieve differently and that culture and diversity play a key role,” Brandimarte says. “Hansen embodies empathy and compassion for others, and courage and advocacy to fight for equality on all levels.”
Kessia Graves
Kessia Graves remembers feeling lost and alone at times during her first year as an Oakland student. It wasn’t until she stepped out of her comfort zone and made connections with those around her that she found her place in the campus community. Since that time, she has been on a mission to help other first-year students find their footing at Oakland.  

As a CORE ambassador in the Center for Multicultural Initiatives, Graves mentors first-year students through one-on-one sessions designed to assess academic and social progress and provide information about campus resources. The communication major has also served as an Orientation Group Leader, Pre-College Programs student mentor and a success coach for first-year students enrolled in the Emerging Scholar program.  

“Working with first-year students has meant so much to me because I understand that in my positions, I am one of the first people to represent what an Oakland student looks like,” she says. “My positions function as a vehicle for promoting inclusion, as well as encouraging students to step out of their comfort zone, just as I did.”  

Melanie Chamberlain, an academic adviser who worked with Graves during her time as a success coach, says that Graves’ focus on promoting student success aligns with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of equality.  

“When I think of Dr. King’s message of equality for all, I believe education is one of the strategic routes to get there,” Chamberlain says. “Kessia’s ability to connect with these students and guide them to additional resources and supports is going to help ensure that they stay and graduate from OU – which will ultimately help to elevate them socially and economically.”  

Graves’ campus involvement includes membership in the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc., Feminists of OU, the Circle of Sisterhood and Association of Black Students. She’s volunteered at OU’s Clinton River Water Festival and also devoted time to charitable initiatives, including Fleece and Thank You, Humble Designs and Grace Centers of Hope. She is also president of Lifting Our Very Existence, Naturally, a student organization promoting self-acceptance, with particular focus on celebrating the beauty of natural hair.
Lakaysha Mitchell
Lakaysha Mitchell understands the challenges of growing up biracial in a society that often sees the world in black and white.  

“I was too light to be included in the Black groups and just dark enough to be excluded from the White groups,” she says. “Belonging to two groups but not fitting into either, especially as an adolescent, left me wondering where, if anywhere, I belonged.”  

Rather than letting her early struggles define her, Mitchell used them as motivation to empower herself and others. At Oakland, she serves as a Pre-College Programs student mentor, Center for Multicultural Initiatives peer mentor and president of OU’s chapter of the American Association of University Women. In the latter role, Mitchell implements a variety of programs and events to promote diversity and inclusion.  

“I’ve learned that I do not have to fit in,” the social work major says. “I can stand on my own and form my own identity regardless of what race I choose to identify as.”   Melissa St. Pierre, special lecturer of Writing and Rhetoric, has witnessed Mitchell’s growth as a student leader.   “Lakaysha improves race relations at Oakland University through her dedication to equality,” St. Pierre said. “I have seen her break racial stereotypes down to the logical fallacies that they are and educate her peers with the type of compassionate persistence that is desperately needed in this country.”  

Mitchell is also a parent and family ambassador, providing information on student success, facilitating campus tours, and creating a welcoming atmosphere for parents and family members of new students.  

Nick Desrochers, coordinator of Orientation and New Student Programs, calls Mitchell “a beacon of light for parents and family members going through the transition of sending a child off to college.”  

“Lakaysha solidifies in the minds of countless parents and family members that Oakland University is the right fit, not just for the incoming student, but for the family of the student as well,” Desrochers says. “She is the kind of student leader that immediately puts a person at ease, thus contributing to OU’s culture of support and kindness.”
Obadah Asbahi
As a biology major focusing on pre-medical studies, Obadah Asbahi has his sights set on becoming a doctor. But his prescription for success involves more than just treating physical ailments. Through his involvement in various campus offices and organizations, he also strives to heal social and cultural maladies.  

This can be seen in his work as a research assistant in the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB). Under the supervision of OUWB Assistant Professor Roberto Rinaldi, Asbahi is part of a group of OU students working on Transforming Identity Empowerment Resilience and Mentoring (TIER-M), an intervention program promoting positive change among “multi-ethnic, multi-problem, at-risk youth in alternative high schools.”   Describing Asbahi as “conscientious, creative and committed,” Rinaldi noted the “incredible rapport” he developed with the high school students during the interview and data collection process.  

“Obadah has a knack for working with people and treats individuals from all walks of life with great respect, kindness and empathy,” Rinaldi says. “He’s been engaged in the program sessions and directly influenced the way we run the program, ensuring that we included the concept of ethnic identity.”  

Asbahi also works with diverse populations in his roles as a Pre-College Programs student mentor and Center for Multicultural Initiatives peer mentor. Kendra Agee, coordinator of Pre-College Programs, says that Asbahi “empowers his peers to become their very best selves.”

As an Arab American Muslim, Asbahi enjoys sharing his religious and cultural background with others. One of his proudest moments was when a mentee confided that Asbahi was the first Muslim he had met and that the experience helped him become more open-minded.

“I remember that moment as a reminder that, although there is still much work to be done when it comes to tearing down cultural and racial barriers, it is done one person at a time,” Asbahi says. “A constant effort must be made to have an impact on every person I meet at Oakland.”
Michela Manga
Michela Manga says the greatest gift of being an immigrant is “a love and understanding of people.” Born in Italy to Albanian parents, Manga has a passion for sharing her international roots, as well as learning about the cultures and traditions of people throughout the world.   “Michela keeps very strong relationships with the family she still has in Italy and Albania,” says Caterina Pieri, special lecturer of Italian. “I believe that these international roots are part of the reason why she is such a skilled mediator and a compassionate woman, full of love for others, no matter their race, heritage or social status.”  

At Oakland, Manga has been a leader in the Italian Club and Albanian American student organization. In collaboration with other student groups, she has participated in OU’s International Night, teaching attendees about Italian and Albanian language, history and culture.  

Aspiring to become a doctor, Manga also cofounded the Pre-Medical Volunteer Society, which focuses on serving people from different backgrounds, including the underprivileged, adults and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder, children with disabilities, and hospital patients and their families. She also traveled to Nicaragua as part of OU’s Global Medical Brigades chapter and worked alongside medical professionals to provide care to those in need.  

“My heart was touched and my eyes were opened to the greatness that can be accomplished when people work together,” says Manga, a biomedical sciences major and Honors College member. “I learned so much about the rich and beautiful culture of Nicaragua and how medicine differs throughout the world.”  

Manga also serves as a conversation partner for students in OU’s English as a Second Language program. As she helps these students work toward mastering a new language, Manga sees her own story reflected in theirs.  

“The weekly meetings made me realize how similar my own immigrant journey was to theirs,” she says. “We all share similar struggles, but working with these students is a reminder that our struggles will be worth it in the end.”