S. Delois Mayes Foundation’s annual celebration of service set for Monday

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2024

The S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation will be honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while celebrating Suffolk community leaders. The foundation will hold its 10th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Event at 10 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 15, at the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront at 5921 Harbour View Blvd. Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III will serve as Event Emcee, with Pastor and Former Suffolk Police Chief Alfred S. Chandler serving as Keynote Speaker for the event. Tickets will be $60 per person, with tickets per table (8 tickets) being $480. Each ticket will include brunch. Ticket sales end on January 8. 

Ahead of the event, S. Delois Mayes Scholarship Foundation Founder and President Ebony Wright discussed the brunch.

“So every year, we have an MLK Day of Service event. It is our largest fundraiser, and we picked MLK Day to have the fundraiser because it’s a day of service, and it’s a day to pour into the community,” Wright said. “Dr. Gordon is our Emcee, and I thought because it is our 10th year, Dr. Gordon is an unsung hero as well, I will tell you. He has made a lot of changes in Suffolk Public Schools and so I wanted our Emcee to be a voice, somebody who’s strong in education, passionate about education.”

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Wright also talked about reaching out to Chandler to serve as Keynote Speaker. 

“I asked him last year during our 9th service if he would come. As you know, Dr. King was a minister, as well. And I think that they share in common the passion for community hence he’s the former Suffolk Police Chief, but he also is a pastor, so he’s someone who ministers the gospel,” Wright said. “So, I think his unique spin on things is going to be definitely in the spirit of Dr. King, it’s going to bring community service and is also going to bring some passion and love.”

Wright said this year’s theme was derived from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“So I hand-picked these two to help us commemorate our 10th year, and I think it’s going to be special because of who they are and what they’ve been through, and how they contributed to the community,” Wright said.

Along with food, fellowship and music, the event will present the Community Leadership Awards to Executive Director and Founder of Walk In It, Inc., Dr. Jennell Riddick and King’s Fork Middle School Teacher J. Michelle Ingram for their positive community impact. Wright detailed the nomination process and why they were both chosen.

“Around September-October, we do solicitations for nominations. And when the nominations come in, the board then votes on them. So what stood out about these two young women is one, I’ll start with Miss Ingram. I think that our educators are unsung heroes, I think that they are angels, and especially in this current environment, they’re definitely underappreciated,” Wright said. “But what stood out for me with her is not only is she making a difference in the lives of our children who are our future, she’s also a teacher leader.”

Wright emphasized Ingram’s work in the education workforce and helping younger teachers coming in following veteran teachers retiring. Likewise, Wright reflected on how teachers impacted her in her own life.

“Sometimes we think that the leadership is going to be someone who, you know, feed the homeless, that’s great, someone who is a game changer. But to me, the impact that teachers have played in my life, transcends beyond the classroom, beyond the community,” Wright said. “I can reflect that even now, some of the characteristics that I have today are because of a teacher who poured into me. So, that is why Miss Ingram was selected. The board voted unanimously for her.”

On Riddick, Wright talked about how she embodies the leadership qualities of Dr. King through mentorship in her Walk In It, Inc. nonprofit organization, which devotes itself to empowering girls and women. 

“ … We need that. Women need that, especially young girls, because she deals with a demographic of young girls who have some different circumstances. She said maybe some two parent households, there may be some single parent households, there may be some who need affirmation because you know the dads aren’t present,” Wright said. “Whatever the situation is, she takes these young women that she goes into our schools through her Ladies of Distinction, which is a mentor and character development program, and she helps to pour into these women, again, shaping our next generation.”

Wright continued.

“When I think of Dr. King and when I think of the work that he did in the community, it wasn’t just the civil rights, but it was the empowerment — empowering people to impact change, and both of these young women, Dr. Riddick and Miss Ingram, are impacting change in future generations. So we are here in 2023 and Dr. King’s formula, the blueprint that he left us, it’s still here, and I believe that both of these women are writing it out and playing it out to a tee.”

Wright also took time to talk about the inspiration behind the scholarship foundation. Founded in 2013, the foundation was created in honor of her sister, Shontoyia “Toyia” Delois Mayes. 

“She is someone who was very near and dear to me. She died in a car accident in 2002. Education was very important to her and I wanted to figure out a way to honor her memory. And so there were a lot of things that I could have done, but I think education was the biggest thing, she persevered through so many obstacles in life, and she was the first in our family to graduate college,” Wright said. “And so I founded the scholarship foundation in order to honor her. She’s a graduate of Old Dominion University. She initially started off majoring in Psychology, but somewhere along the way, she changed her major to English. And she was going to use some of the obstacles that she had overcome to write books to help young people. young adults, kind of deal with some of the things that she had overcome.”

Wright reflected that not long after graduating from college and relocating to Georgia, she passed away in a car accident. Wright says she and her fellow board members honor her sister’s memory through the scholarship foundation.

“We feel like we write a chapter each year of her book that she didn’t get to write, through scholarships. We write a chapter each year to different kids in different families to kind of help them in the same way that she intended to help them,” Wright said. “We incorporated in 2013. In September, we just crossed over our 10 year mark, we’ve awarded over $100,000 in scholarships and we are just happy to be of service to the community.”

Scholarship applications for the S. Delois Mayes Scholarship opened on Dec. 1, 2023, and will officially close on Thursday, Feb. 1. For those who can’t attend the brunch and still want to donate toward future scholarship recipients, Wright says that people can go to sdmscholarshipfoundation.com.

“You can use either the donate button which just makes a regular donation, or if you are an organization that wants to sponsor, we have different sponsorships on the MLK event page,” Wright said. “100 percent of our proceeds go to scholarship awards. That is one of the things we pride ourselves in … So if people want to donate because they’re not able to make it, we do take donations.”

Lastly, Wright emotionally expressed how “grateful and thankful” she was able to help over 47 families since the start of her journey in honoring her sister.

“I am grateful and thankful that God is using our organization to help, you know education is very expensive. It doesn’t matter what your socioeconomic background is. Even if you make a lot of money here in Suffolk, it is still that the price for education is just, it’s just so high,” Wright said. “So to be able to help families send their children to college, it’s just something that I’m grateful and thankful for.”

To purchase tickets or for more information, go to sdmscholarshipfoundation.com.