Promoting intelligence and character on MLK Day

Published 7:35 pm Monday, January 18, 2021

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is also known as a day of service to give back to the community as King did. A scholarship foundation seeks to keep that momentum with its annual event.

The seventh annual fundraiser changed to a free, virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of the customary in-person brunch, those who watched were encouraged to donate on the website to help continue the scholarships for high school seniors in Suffolk given by the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation.

Delivering the keynote address was Steffanie B. Easter, the vice president of strategy at SAIC. She spoke on the event’s theme quote from King: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”


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Easter pointed out that intelligence is not only based on formal education. Those who are unable or have not received formal education can still have intelligence, regardless of their background.

“Intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills, whether in a formal environment or not, which I believe applies to all of us,” said Easter.

Easter gave the viewers three themes to help make them better people and to make better societies. She talked about critical thinking and how not to take everything they hear at face value. Her second point was about context and how to take the truth in the context of the situation and personal character. Thirdly, her last theme was to pay it back to the community to move it forward and make it better.

“All of us here today are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us,” said Easter. “People like Martin Luther King Jr. or others whose names may not be known to the masses, but they’re known to us. They all have one thing in common, they all worked hard and sacrificed for each of us to be where we are today and to have the things that we have today, whether we believe that we’ve got it all or not. We are better off than some of us even deserve.”

Recognized at the virtual event was the recipient of the 2020 Community Leadership Award, Michelle Gould. Gould teaches second grade at Churchland Academy Elementary School in Portsmouth. The board wanted to recognize an essential worker on the front lines during this pandemic to serve their community.

“I would like to dedicate this award to my fellow educators,” said Gould. “Listen, no teacher is an island. It takes collaboration, it takes sharing information and ideas, and a lot of educators make the sacrifice day in and day out and are never recognized. So, I dedicate that this is not just for me, this is for us.”

Recipients of the scholarship from past years gave short messages of appreciation and updates on their college experiences and how the scholarship opened opportunities for them.

Vera Shinard was one of the 2015 recipients. She spoke about how she has been able to further her education, as she is pursuing her doctorate and had numerous opportunities to study abroad.

“I say all this because community support is what makes many of these achievements possible,” said Shinard. “Mrs. Wright and the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation is an amazing example of what community support looks like and what it is capable of looking like when planted and bloomed. It takes a village definitely to make inspirations happen, and I hope that you all are just as inspired to make an impact in and for your community as we can see that it can take place in many different forms, including this scholarship foundation itself.”

This event is usually the primary fundraiser to raise money for the scholarships. To donate, visit